There are five verses in The Gospel According to John that are known as the Paraclete or Advocate verses:
John 14:15 – 17 – If you love me you will obey my commands; and I will ask the Father, and he will give you another to be your Advocate, who will be with you forever – the Spirit of truth. The world cannot receive him, because the world neither sees nor knows him; but you know him, because he dwells with you and is (or, shall be) in you.
John 14:25 – 26 – I have told you all this while I am still here with you; but your Advocate, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send you in my name, will teach you everything, and will call to mind all that I have told you.
John 15:26 – 27 – But when your Advocate has come, whom I will send you from the Father – the Spirit of truth that issues from the father – he will bear witness to me. And you also are my witnesses, because you have been with me from the first.
John 16:5 – 11 – None of you asks me, “Where are you going?” Yet you are plunged into grief because of what I have told you. Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is for your good that I am leaving you. If I do not go, your Advocate will not come, whereas if I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will confute the world, and show you where wrong and right and judgement lie. He will convict them of wrong, by their refusal to believe in me; he will convince them that right is on my side, by showing that I go to the Father when I pass from your sight; and he will convince them of divine judgement, by showing that the Prince of this world stands condemned.
John 16:12 – 15 – There is still much that I could say to you, but the burden would be too great for you now. However, when he comes who is the Spirit of truth, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own authority, but will tell only what he hears; and he will make known to you the things that are coming. He will glorify me, for everything that he makes known to you he will draw from what is mine. All that the Father has is mine, and that is why I said, ‘Everything that he makes known to you he will draw from what is mine.’
All five Paraclete or Advocate verses are put on the lips of Jesus by the author of The Gospel According to John.
The exact nature of the Holy Spirit as described in the Gospel of John is amorphous. The Holy Spirit is not forthrightly described in absolute terms, but comes across as a solution to a well-designed puzzle. There is no defining explanation of what the Holy Spirit is. The scholarly criticism focused on the nature of the Holy Spirit is varied, being focused on different aspects of the Holy Spirit. Biblical scholars battle with each other attempting to explain what the author of John was attempting to accomplish. Some of the scholars are searching for a definitive, exacting portrayal of the Holy Spirit, which, of course, is not possible. It is by nature a spiritual and amorphous task. The Holy Spirit is an ingenious theological creation on the part of the author of John and and yields to broad theological interpretation. None of the scholars are wrong, some are just grasping at specific theories that attempt to pin down the author to specifics. Others are quite successful with their general interpretations of purpose. However, all of the critical material can be combined to create a generalized depiction of the Johanine Holy Spirit.
The word “spirit” has its origin in the nature of wind. Often within the Bible, “wind” and “spirit” are used interchangeably. This can be used as a powerful literary device, as in Genesis 1:1 – 2:
In the beginning of creation, when God made heaven and earth, the earth was without form and void, with darkness over the face of the abyss, and a mighty wind that swept over the surface of the waters.
The New English Bible provides a footnote regarding the phrase, “and a mighty wind that swept.” Besides its obvious meaning, it can also mean, “and the spirit of God hovering.” This “mighty wind” and “spirit of God” are analogous. This is a powerful image. One can sense the image of the wind hovering over the “abyss” of the earth and easily relate it to the spirit of God. The spirit of God is both a simple and complex concept that is often mysterious, impalpable concept. Wind is also a simple, yet complex concept while at times mysterious and impalpable. C. H. Dodd expands this concept of wind and spirit to humanity:
The impression of movement and force which the mind derives from contemplating the effects of wind seems early to have suggested that life and movement in the world are due to the presence of some element analogous to the breath-soul in man.1
In the Gospel of John, “Holy Spirit” conveys the concept of a continued relationship between Jesus and his followers. It is, at times, referred to as “intercessor,” “Advocate,” and most often as “Paraclete.” I will use the term, “Paraclete.”
Most of the information we have about the Paraclete, and, in turn, the Holy Spirit comes from the five Paraclete verses. Scholars devote themselves to constructing a picture of the Paraclete through these five verses. As an aid in discussion and an introduction to Paraclete scholarship, I will present leading arguments and conceptions of the Paraclete. Afterwards, I will attempt to combine this scholarship into a summary concept of the Paraclete based on the original writings of the author of the Gospel of John. My attempt is to arrive at some common ground between the views (if only abstractly).
As a starting point:
Hermann Sasse argued that the Paraclete was a human personality, one filled with the Spirit, a prophet who would proclaim Christ and creatively continue his revelation – just what the author of the Fourth Gospel did. In that case, the evangelist himself would be the Paraclete, even though the final version of the book identifies the Paraclete with the Spirit.2
This scholarly concept is simply, a person filled with the Spirit.
Hans Windisch promotes the idea of a double Paraclete, one in heaven and one on earth:
The role of the Paraclete as a “double” becomes evident directly from John, not only from the expression about the ‘other Paraclete’ in 14:16, but also from the comparison with the intercessory function of Jesus in heaven in 16:26 as well ad from 1 John 2:1 (Jesus is the Paraclete of the Church with the Father). According to John (the Gospel and the first epistle), the Church has two intercessors, one in heaven and one on earth – the one, the friend at court who stays at the court and intercedes there for his protege, and the other, the friend from court who is sent by the court and appears in the world as mediator, admonitor, teacher, and ambassador.3
The following quotes consider the Paraclete in more general terms and are, I believe, stronger because of that – much less is read into the original texts. Raymond Brown asserts that Jesus was the first Paraclete and the Holy Spirit was the second Paraclete. Through parallel comparisons of what John says about Jesus and what Brown believes is the second Paraclete, he elaborates:
Jesus is the truth (14:16), as the Paraclete is the Spirit of truth. He is the Holy One of God (6:69), as the Paraclete is the Holy Spirit (accepting the reading in 14:26). Hence the Holy Spirit in John, as in the New Testament generally, is the Spirit of Jesus; it rested on him as he began his ministry (1:32) and he breathed it forth at its close (20:22 and perhaps 19:30)
[Brown’s conclusion is] …as ‘another Paraclete’ the Paraclete is, as it were, another Jesus … and the Paraclete is the presence of Jesus when Jesus is absent.4
George Johnston responds:
As paraclete, the spirit is the representative of Jesus and it should not therefore be considered ‘another Jesus’ or ‘ the presence of Jesus when Jesus is absent.’ Rather, this concept directs attention to the evidence in the life of the apostolic church of wisdom, vitality, virtue, and graces that Christians could explain only as the sign of divine power and God’s very presence.
Within the churches the influence and the gifts of the spirit-paraclete were mediated to certain persons who fulfilled precisely those functions that are ascribed in the Farewell Discourses to the spirit itself. They are therefore to be identified as the agents of the divine spirit. John the evangelist must be regarded as one such agent, and it would not be improper to honor him with the title of ‘paraclete of the Christians’ 5
Finally, C. K. Barrett provides a summary:
The Spirit’s work is to bear witness to Christ, to make operative what Christ had already effected. The Spirit is thus the eschatological continuum in which the work of Christ, initiated in his ministry and awaiting its termination at his return, is wrought out. … How, we may ask, does the Spirit in fact convince the world of sin, righteousness, and judgement? The answer is, primarily through the witness which the Church bears to Christ, its preaching and sacraments.6
In my mind, Barrett’s helps to bring all the discussion of the Paraclete together into a strong argument about the contemporary thinking when the gospels were written. The Spirit is directly related to the Church’s witness to Christ. Put another way, the Church is the Spirit incarnate. It is a “remembering of Jesus.” The Christ of the Johanine Jesus is the crux of the Church. This “remembrance” is what nourishes the Church. Johnston rebukes strongly Brown’s thinking that “the Paraclete is the presence of Jesus while Jesus is absent.” In his attempt to de-mythologize the Holy Spirit by giving it an early Christian explanation of the divine source of “wisdom, vitality, and graces,” he contradicts himself. The very existence of the Church had its generation in Jesus’s death (John 12:24). It is symbolically represented in Jesus’s exhaltation and giving of the Spirit to the disciples. In John’s view, there would have been no wisdom, vitality and grace if there had been no death. Bluntly, Christ and therefore, Christianity did not exist prior to Jesus’s death. The death exalted the things Jesus shared with the disciples to the point of creating the Church – Jesus and his teachings are “resurrected” as Christ and Christianity when he dies. Jesus is elevated to the role of the Paraclete, the Advocate at his death. The Paraclete or Advocate is the Holy Spirit and John felt this Spirit was the wisdom, vitality and grace of the Church, which is Christ manifest. Since the death and exaltation was the basis for the Church, so long as the Church exists, so does the essence of Jesus, which is Christ. This is what the author of the Gospel of John is attempting to communicate in his conception of the Holy Spirit. Jesus, in the flesh, is not present, but the mysterious, impalpable presence of Jesus is felt through the Church’s remembrance of, or witness to, him.
The Paraclete’s purpose is to
call to mind all that I have told you. (John 14:26)
The Spirit will “bear witness” to Jesus (John 15:26). This “presence through remembering” is the dynamo and Holy Spirit of the Church. In fact, it is it’s defining attribute. It is the Spirit of Jesus, the Spirit of truth
I am the truth. (John 14:6)
and therefore, to the Church, the Holy Spirit.
Johnston does do some service, however, in the he concedes to Hermann Sasse that John could very well be labeled a “paraclete of the Christians.” As suggested earlier, the Church and the Holy Spirit are almost inseparable because the Church is made up of Christians possessing the Holy Spirit (John 7:39 and John 20:22). The supporters of the Church (such as the author of The Gospel of John) perform the tasks associated with the Paraclete. It is reasonable to assume the the author of The Gospel of John considered himself to be filled with the Spirit. His conception of the Christian was a person filled with the Spirit. The Church as a whole embodies the Paraclete idea (Barrett), but the author of The Gospel of John, being a leading force in the Church at this time, and by speaking “… on his own authority … only what he hears” (John 16:13), also personifies the Paraclete idea.
Raymond Brown and Han Windisch both emphasize the “double” existence of Paracletes. Windisch supports the idea of “two intercessors, one in heaven and one on earth.” Brown believes that the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Jesus. There’s some commonality here. The intercessor in heaven can be seen as Jesus united with God and the intercessor on earth can be seen as the Spirit of Jesus or the Spirit of truth within the Church. The interpretation by Brown, taken along with Barrett’s continuum, represents what I believe to be the idea closest to the conception of the Johanine author. Brown’s argument is substantiated by two verses in the Gospel of John. In John 14:6 Jesus says, “I am the truth ….” In the Paraclete verse John 15:26. the Paraclete is referred to as the “Spirit of truth which issues from the Father.” The unity of Christ and the Father (My Father and I are one. (John 10:30)) clearly supports Windisch’s view – Jesus united with God as the heavenly Paraclete, the Holy Spirit as the earthly Paraclete (the Spirit of Jesus) left behind.
There is also evidence in John which presents the Holy Spirit as being the Spirit of Jesus within the Church. The author of The Gospel According to John gradually builds on this theme until Jesus’s exhaltation, when Jesus is made to pass the Holy Spirit onto the disciples. The author begins with eucharistic imagery, the “bread of life” and “living waters.”
John 12:23 – The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. In truth, in very truth I tell you, a grain of wheat remains a solitary grain unless it falls into the ground and dies; but if it dies, it bears a rich harvest.
Jesus must die in order to give up his Spirit.
John 16:7 – If I do not go, your Advocate will not come….
In order to have eternal life this Holy Spirit must be received. The author uses the eating of bread that represents Jesus’s flesh to depict the Christian reception of the Holy Spirit. The image of eating Jesus’s flesh represents both the death during the Passion and the reception of the Spirit through eating. As bread is eaten for nourishment, so is the Holy Spirit received for eternal life; Jesus’s flesh is consumed. The symbol of “living water” is used in similar fashion.
John 7:38 – ‘Streams of water shall flow out from within him.’ He was speaking of the Spirit which believers in him would receive later; for the Spirit had not yet been given, because Jesus had not yet been glorified.
Jesus must die before the Spirit can be given, before the “living water” can be consumed.
What is the nature of the Paraclete? It is best understood as the unification of the followers of Jesus (the Church). As Jesus is unified with God and the believers unified with the Spirit, all believers are unified through Jesus’s commandment:
John 13:34 – 35 – I give you a new commandment: love one another; as I have loved you, so you are to love one another, then I know that you are my disciples.
The Paraclete is to “confute the world, and show where wrong and right and Judgement lie” (John 16:8). In John the “world” represents the world of Satan. A division separates the disciples and the world.
John 14:17 – The world cannot receive him, because the world neither sees not knows him; but you know him, because he dwells with you and is (or shall be) in you.
When Jesus is exalted the Church is formed. He tells the disciples,
John 20:22 – 23 – Receive the Holy Spirit! If you forgive any man’s sins, they stand forgiven; if you pronounce them unforgiven, unforgiven they remain.
John is blending his image of the Paraclete with the Church as set apart from the world. The Church, as the Paraclete, will judge the world.
In the Synoptics, Jesus’s message is “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31, Matthews 22:39, Luke 10:27). Within John, this is an abstraction. The “love one another” is depicted only within the context of the disciples, the Church. This commandment is the strongest unifying aspect of the Church. The Church is set against Satan’s world. The world is always set against the disciples. This is a manifestation of the contrast between the light and the dark.
Thus the Paraclete and Holy Spirit are closely related. The Paraclete is the Church and its continuing witness to Christ. The Paraclete derives its power to “confute the world” through the Christian receipt of the Holy Spirit. Jesus’s sending of the Paraclete is seen as the gift of the Spirit to the disciples at Jesus’s exaltation. Barrett’s “eschatological continuum” paints a very clear picture. George Johnston sums up the author of John:
[Jesus] … as the God-man is spirit and the source of spiritual life. No one in John’s era could see Jesus the Son of God with the eye of the flesh; but they would see the embodiment in the Church of his disciples.7
The author of John theologically immortalized Jesus as Christ. Indeed, Jesus became the exalted Christ in the Fourth Gospel.
1Dodd, C.H., The Interpretation of the Fourth Gospel (London: Cambridge University Press, 1953), p.213.
2Reuman, John, Introduction to The Spirit-Paraclete in the Fourth Gospel by Hans Windisch (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1968), p. xi.
3Windisch, Hans, The Spirit-Paraclete in the Fourth Gospel (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1968), p. 20.
4Johnston, George, The Spirit-Paraclete in the Fourth Gospel (London: Cambridge University Press, 1970), p. 94.
5Johnston, p. 126.
6Barrett, C.K., The Gospel According to St. John (London: S.P.C.K., 1965), pp. 76-77.
7Johnston, p. 127.
C.K. Barrett, The Gospel According to St. John. London: S.P.C.K., 1965.
C.H. Dodd, The Interpretation of the Fourth Gospel. London: Cambridge University Press, 1953.
George Johnston, The Spirit-Paraclete in the Fourth Gospel. London: Cambridge University Press, 1970.
Hans Windisch, The Spirit-Paraclete in the Fourth Gospel. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1968.