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Note of the Day – June 9 (John 14:16-17)

John 14:16-17

For the three days of Pentecost (Sunday/Monday/Tuesday), I will be examining the four passages in the Last Discourse where the Holy Spirit is specifically mentioned. The first of these is found in 14:16-17. I wish to discuss this reference according to three points:

  1. The meaning of the word para/klhto$ and its identification
  2. Its primary significance in the Last Discourse, and
  3. The connection between vv. 16-17 and verse 15
1. The meaning and identification of para/klhto$

The noun para/klhto$ literally means “one called alongside”, or, in the active sense, “one who calls (a person) alongside”. The “calling alongside” fundamentally refers to giving help or assistance to a person. This help sometimes is in the technical (legal) sense of a defender or “defense attorney”, i.e. an advocate—and so the word is rendered here in some translations. However, translations such as “Advocate” or “Comforter”, etc, are interpretive renderings which tend to focus only on one particular aspect of the kind of “help” a para/klhto$ might give. To avoid this, other translators and commentators give a simple transliteration in English—”Paraclete”—but this offers no guidance as to the meaning of the word. In point of fact, Jesus describes the specific “help” which the para/klhto$ will give to his disciples (believers) in the context of these sayings, so it is best to translate the word itself literally—i.e., “one called alongside”:

“And I will ask (of) the Father and he will give to you another (who is) called alongside [para/klhto$], (so) that he might be with you into the Age…” (v. 16)

The use of a&llo$ (“[an]other”) suggests that Jesus himself was a para/klhto$—i.e. one called alongside believers, and that this second “helper” will take his place. This would seem to be confirmed by 1 John 2:1, the only other occurrence of the word in the New Testament outside of the four in Jn 14-16. Who is this “second” para/klhto$? Jesus identifies him in verse 17:

“…the Spirit of Truth [to\ pneu=ma th=$ a)lhqei/a$], whom the world is unable to receive, (in) that [i.e. because] it does not observe [i.e. recognize] him and does not know (him)—but you know him, (in) that [i.e. because] he remains with you and will be in you.”

The expression “Spirit of Truth” is used to identify the para/klhto$ also in 15:26 and 16:13; only in 14:26 is the specific title “Holy Spirit” used. This has led some critical commentators to theorize that originally the “Spirit of Truth” may not have referred to the Holy Spirit (in a Christian sense), nor even to the essential Spirit of God (YHWH), but to a distinct divine/heavenly being (or “Angel”). The expression “Spirit of Truth” is found in the Qumran text 1QS (“Community Rule”), where the reference is to God’s cleansing of humankind (i.e. the righteous/believers) through His truth:

“He will sprinkle over him the spirit of truth like lustral water (in order to cleanse him) from…the unclean spirit, in order to instruct the upright ones with knowledge of the Most High…There will be no more injustice…Until now the spirits of truth and injustice feud in the heart of man: they walk in wisdom or in folly. In agreement with with man’s inheritance in the truth, he shall be righteous…” (1QS 4:21-24)

Even in the thought of the Qumran Community, this “spirit of truth” is identified with the “holy spirit”

“For it is by the spirit of the true counsel of God that are atoned the paths of man, all his iniquities, so that he can look at the light of life. And it is by the holy spirit of the community, in its truth, that he is cleansed…” (3:6-7)

The idea seems to be that God, through his own Spirit (of truth and holiness), cleanses the “spirit” of the Community, and that, by joining the Community, a person’s own “spirit” is likewise cleansed. For early Christians, this cleansing Spirit was associated with the person (and work) of Jesus, already in the earliest Gospel tradition (Mark 1:8 par).

2. The primary significance of para/klhto$

As indicated above, the essential meaning of the noun is “one called alongside [para/]”. The primary emphasis is not on what this person does, but rather his presence alongside believers. This is clear from Jesus’ words here in vv. 16-17

  • “(so) that he might be with you [meq’ u(mw=n] into the Age” (v. 16)
  • “(in) that he remains alongside you [par’ u(mi=n me/nei] and will be in you [e)n u(mi=n e&stai]” (v. 17)

The parallel with verses 23-24 strongly indicates that the presence of this para/klhto$ signifies the presence of both God the Father and Jesus—Father and Son—together:

“…my Father will love him [i.e. the believer], and we will come toward him and we will make our abiding/dwelling (place) with him” (v. 23b)

The noun monh/ (“abiding [place]”, i.e. place to stay) is related to the verb me/nw (“remain, abide”)—just as the Spirit/para/klhto$ abides with the believer, so Jesus and the Father together have their abode with him.

3. The connection between verse 15 and vv. 16-17

Perhaps the most difficult aspect of this passage is how verses 16-17 relate to the conditional statement in v. 15:

“If you love me, you will keep my e)ntolai/

The noun e)ntolh/ is typically translated “commandment”, which can be somewhat misleading, especially in the Johannine discourses. As I have discussed in earlier notes, the word essentially refers to something given (laid on) a person to complete. When Jesus applies it to himself (always in the singular), it signifies the task, or mission, given to him by the Father. Every aspect of the mission is involved, including all that he is to say and do, culminating in his sacrificial death on the cross. When the word (either singular or plural) applies to believers, the emphasis is on accepting Jesus word—primarily in terms of the witness to his identity, as the divine/eternal Son sent by the Father. The use of the plural e)ntolai/ can be somewhat confusing, especially when translated “commandments”, since it gives the impression of a set of specific commands, such as the Decalogue (Ten Commandments) and other portions of the Old Testament Law (Torah). However, one finds no evidence for anything of the sort in the Gospel of John; and, while Jesus certainly gave considerable teaching of various kinds to his disciples, actual “commandments” are quite rare. Indeed, it is possible to isolate only two primary requirements which would seem to comprise Jesus’ e)ntolai/: (1) trust in Jesus, and (2) love for one another, according to Jesus’ own example. Both of these can be viewed as part of a single injunction to love; note the parallel:

  • “if you love me, you will keep/guard my e)ntolai/” (v. 15)
    “if anyone loves me, he will keep/guard my words [lo/goi]” (v. 23)
  • “the one holding my e)ntolai/ and keeping/guarding them—that (person) is the one loving me” (v. 21)

Loving Jesus is thus synonymous with keeping/guarding his words, which Jesus elsewhere identifies with the Spirit and Life (6:63).

Taking vv. 15-17 (and the parallel in vv. 23-24) out of context might lead to the idea of a probationary period for believers—i.e., only if they prove faithful and obedient to Jesus’ commands will the Spirit be sent to them. Such a view would be contrary to the overall evidence from the Gospel, and reflects a misunderstanding of the logic at work here. As will be discussed in an upcoming note (on Jn 20:22), the Spirit is given to believers immediately upon Jesus’ initial appearance to them after the resurrection. Similarly, in the book of Acts, the Spirit comes to believers in conjunction with their first demonstration of faith (usually associated with the baptism ritual), it is not earned as a result of religious obedience. How then should the conditional statements in vv. 15 and 23 be understood? The interpretive key, I believe, is found in the intervening statement in verse 21, which expresses two fundamental points:

  • The identity and character of the believer:
    “The one holding my e)ntolai/ and keeping/guarding them—that (person) is the one loving me”
    The person who loves Jesus is identified/characterized by accepting all his words and his identity as the Son sent by the Father—the acting out of this acceptance is not a pre-condition, but reflects the believer’s essential identity.
  • The reciprocal relationship of unity between Father, Son, and believer:
    “The one loving me will be loved by my Father and I (also) will love him”
    I.e., love is a sign of intimate relationship and unity.

I we wish to view this dynamic as a logical or temporal sequence, it might be summarized as follows:

Trust in Jesus—i.e. acceptance of his words, etc
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Following the example of Jesus’ love—the presence of this love in the believer
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The believer’s relationship with Father and Son is realized
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The presence of the Father and Son is manifest in/with the believer

The Spirit is the manifest presence of Father and Son, as is clear both from verse 23 and the closing words of v. 21:

“…and I will make myself shine (forth) in/on him”

This relationship between Father, Son (Jesus) and Spirit will be discussed further in the next daily note (on 14:25-26 and 15:26-27).

Translation of the Qumran texts, given above, are taken from The Dead Sea Scrolls Study Edition (2 Vols), eds. Florentino García Martínez and Eibert J. C. Tigchelaar (Brill/Eerdmans: 1997-8).

For a discussion of the Spirit in the Pentecost narrative of Acts 2, cf. my earlier three-part article “The Sending of the Spirit” and the article on Peter’s Pentecost speech.

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