The Holy Spirit in John’s Gospel: Another Advocate

In John 14.16, 26; 15.26, and 16.7, Jesus calls the Holy Spirit the “Paraclete.” The context is Jesus comforting his disciples: “Even though I am really leaving you, don’t worry – I’m sending another One like me who will dwell in you, teach you, and remind you of who I am and what I’ve done. He is another Paraclete.” Most translations translate that Greek word (Paraclete) by using “helper” or “comforter.” Those two translations are true (i.e. the Spirit is a helper/comforter), but is there a better term we could use here?

Andrew Lincoln thinks so. He argues – persuasively in my opinion – that “the term has a clear primary meaning in Greek – advocate in a legal context.” This doesn’t mean, he says, that ‘Paraclete’ was the name of a professional legal office, but a person who was called into court to speak in favor of a person, “thereby providing advocacy.” A paraclete is a sort of legal assistant.

This fits John’s gospel well: the Spirit is another Paraclete, meaning Jesus is also one. One aspect of Jesus’ mission was advocacy. He had a legal role as witness to who God was, what the OT was about, and what his own role was as Messiah/servant; he also was an advocate as he defended his people against legal attacks. For example, in John 9, Jesus defends the man born blind and accuses those who judge him: he is an advocate. “Another Paraclete” means “that the Spirit is Jesus’ designated successor who will continue the forensic role of Jesus in the ongoing trial after the glorification of Jesus.” The Spirit is the successor of Jesus and reveals, defends, teaches, and upholds the same truths of Jesus in the continuing cosmic trial.

This gift of another Advocate is very much for the disciples’ good: after Jesus’ departure, the Spirit-Advocate “will be with them forever in a way that Jesus in his physical presence could not be.” After Jesus leaves, the Spirit’s role as advocate is to not just reproduce Jesus’ teaching, but to unfold the significance of Jesus’ teaching in new situations in which his people find themselves. It is a remembering and teaching that is both vertical and horizontal: the Advocate brings the past sayings and works of Jesus forward to the present, and he brings the Father and Christ to people on earth. The Advocate is a legal assistant who mediates the past and present as well as heaven and earth.

In summary, Paraclete is best translated as “advocate” or the like. If you’re not convinced, also check 1 John 2.1 where the same term is used for Jesus, our Advocate before the Father.

The above can be found in Lincoln’s commentary, The Gospel According to Saint John (Peabody: Hendrickson, 2005), 393-397. He also expands on the advocate/trial theme in Truth on Trial (Peabody: Hendrickson, 2000), 110-123.

For more information still, Kostenberger pretty much agrees with Lincoln in his background commentary on John’s Gospel found in volume II of the Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002), 139-140. Also note Keener in volume II of his excellent commentary, The Gospel of John (Peabody: Hendrickson, 2003), 954-969.

shane lems

sunnyside wa

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