The Promise of the Parakletos Study No. 221
ow should we understand what Jesus meant in John 14 regarding the promise of a “Helper” or “Comforter”? During Jesus’ final hours with His disciples prior to His crucifixion, He promised to send “another Helper” (“Comforter” — KJV). Only John’s gospel contains this dialogue. This term occurs only four times toward the close of the book (John 14:16, 26, 15:26, 16:7).
What understanding can we glean from these accounts? Are there other passages or additional sources of information that can help?
Meanings of Parakletos
One approach would be to consult other translations. Since the Greek word parakletos (pronounced “pah-ROCK-lay-toss”) is translated as “Helper” in the NKJV and as “Comforter” in the KJV, we could simply find dictionary definitions for these and other words used by other Bible translations.
A better method is to determine how parakletos was understood and used at the time John wrote and apply that meaning to the word in the scriptural account, with insight from related passages.
The Word Biblical Commentary offers this explanation: “The term [parakletos] is a verbal adjective . . . and has the same meaning as . . . ‘one called alongside.’ In secular Greek it was used especially of one called to help another in court. . . . Behm summarized the linguistic evidence as follows: ‘The history of the term in the whole sphere of known Greek and Hellenistic usage outside the NT yields the clear picture of a legal adviser or helper or advocate in the relevant court’,” (Word Biblical Commentary, Bible Works software).
In Greek culture of the time, “Any friend who would take action to give help in time of legal need might be called a parakletos” (New International Commentary of the New Testament: The Gospel According to John by Leon Morris, 1971, page 665).
The Arndt-Gingrich lexicon defines parakletos as, “one who appears in another’s behalf, mediator, intercessor, helper” (A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, third edition, 2000, page 766).
Rabbinic Judaism used the word, “in the sense of advocate, counsel, defender, especially of humans before God. Only later did the meaning of ‘comforter’ penetrate early Christian lit. through its connection with parakaleo [exhort]” (The NIV Theological Dictionary of New Testament Words by Verlyn Verbrugge, 2000, page 971).
Although etymological derivation can be helpful to trace the meaning of words, history of usage is more accurate because words evolve different meanings that do not always flow logically from their etymological roots.
In fact, as Zodhiates points out, “The words parakaleo (3870) and paraklesis (3874), the act or process of comforting . . . do not occur at all in the writings of John” (The Complete Word Study Dictionary New Testament by Spiros Zodhiates, 1992, page 1107).
Leon Morris observes that, “in modern times ‘comfort’ has come to have a meaning like ‘consolation.’ It points to making the best of a difficult situation, whereas the idea in [parakletos] is . . . providing the assistance that will deliver them from the difficult situation” (Morris, page 664).
Verbrugge concludes, “‘Helper’ is the one English word that is both meaningful and fits all the passages in which parakletos occurs in the NT” (Verbrugge, page 972).
However, Morris points out, as is often the case in translating from one language to another, “it is impossible to find one English word that will cover all that the [parakletos] does.” He sums up the meaning of parakletos as “the legal helper, the friend who does whatever necessary to forward their best interests” (Morris, page 666).
Meaning of Parakletos in John 14:16
Let’s plug this meaning into the passages in John 14 to see what insight it can give us.
The setting of this section of scripture is the impending death of Jesus Christ. The mood of the disciples is somber and sad. Jesus is about to put this whole matter into a very positive light by explaining the significance of His death in terms of the plan of God.
He begins (verse 1) by encouraging them not to let their hearts be troubled (anxious or distressed). He had told them that where He is going they could not come, but that they would be with Him later (John 13:33, 36).
He tells them His Father’s house has many “mansions” (a horrible translation for the Greek word mone, pronounced “maw-NAY” — “a place where one may remain or dwell” (Louw-Nida lexicon, from BibleWorks software). He explains that He is going to prepare a place (Greek topos, pronounced “TAH-poss,” which can mean “position” or “opportunity”) for them, after which He promises to come again so they will be able to be with Him (verse 3). The meaning of “come again” in this passage is clearly eschatological, referring to His return to earth at the end time.
He says that they know where He is going and the way they can be with Him (verse 4). But Thomas protests, “Lord, we do not know where You are going, and how can we know the way?” (verse 5). Jesus replies that He is the only way to “come to the Father” (verse 6). This is an important statement, which applies not only to our eternal destiny of being with the Father, but also to access to Him in this life (which is the reason we end our prayers with “in Jesus’ name”).
Speaking of access to God, Jesus promises to give them whatever they ask of the Father in His name. This will enable them to do even greater works than He did, because of what He will be able to do for them after He goes to the Father (verses 13-14).
Specifically, He promises “another Helper” (the first New Testament occurrence of parakletos) to “abide with” them forever (verse 16). So even though He tells them that He is leaving them, and they cannot accompany Him, He assures them, “I will not leave you orphans . . .” (John 14:18).
Who or What is this Parakletos?
He identifies this parakletos as the Holy Spirit or “Spirit of truth” (John 14:27, 26, 15:26).
Here is where Bible reference works get sidetracked because of the Trinitarian concept that is fundamental to mainstream Christianity. Since the Holy Spirit is understood as a third person in the Godhead, scholars use terms such as surrogate and alter ego to define the relationship of this parakletos to Jesus Christ. One source even refers to the parakletos as “the successor of Jesus” (International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, edited by Geoffrey Bromiley, 1988, Vol. 3, page 659). It is as if Jesus “tagged out” and this “successor” “tagged in” (to use a modern analogy from team wrestling).
Did Jesus turn over His role to another? If that were the case, why did Jesus encourage His disciples to ask Him (Jesus) to intercede for them to the Father (John 14:13-14)?
Furthermore, I Timothy 2:5 tells us that “there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus” (NKJV). The word for mediator here is not parakletos, but it does refer to an intermediary between two parties, which fits the meaning of parakletos.
I John 2:1 Gives the Answer
There is one more New Testament passage that identifies the parakletos by name. I John 2:1 tells us, “if anyone sins, we have an Advocate [parakletos] with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” Bromiley correctly observes, “Although I John 2:1 refers to Jesus as parakletos specifically in His exalted state, it can be assumed that parakletos, like the accompanying term dikaios (“righteous one”), applies to the whole scope of Jesus’ ministry both before and after His resurrection” (Bromiley, Vol. 3, pages 659-660).
Similarly, Buttrick points out, “Thus Christ is the ‘advocate’ who pleads for men and represents them toward God. His function as a “paraclete” is identical with His high-priestly office as expounded by the Letter to the Hebrews (cf. especially Hebrews 7:25-28)” (The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible by George Arthur Buttrick, 1962, Vol. 3, page 654).
Meaning of “Another”
Since Jesus refers to the parakletos as “another,” many infer that He was speaking of an additional parakletos. However, the Greek word allos emphasizes similarity or sameness not distinction or difference (for which the Greek word is heteros).
Trench warns, “There are not a few passages in the N.T., whose right interpretation, or at any rate their full understanding, will depend on an accurate seizing of the distinction between these words.” He offers “of the same character” as one of the meanings of allos.
He also points out that allos “is identical with the Latin alius” (Synonyms of the New Testament by Richard Trench, 1944, page 357). Our English word alias is derived from this Latin word, which means “otherwise” (Dictionary of Word Origins by Joseph T. Shipley, 1945, page 17, article “alias”). So the English word alias means “also known as” (Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Tenth Edition, 1999).
Could this be what Jesus meant? Could He be referring to Himself as the parakletos? Let’s take a closer look at the text of John 14.
Is Jesus the Parakletos in John 14?
After assuring them that He would not leave them as orphans, notice what He said, “I will come to you” (verse 18). The futuristic present tense of the verb “describes what is going to take place in the future as though it were already occurring” (It’s Still Greek to Me, by David Alan Black, 1998, page 107). The result is an emphatic statement of reassurance of His continued presence with them.
Death of a family member or loved one always results in a loss of the close relationship with the deceased as well as loss of the benefits and services rendered by that person. Not so with the death of Jesus.
At this point, you are probably thinking, “Yes, but Jesus clearly says that the parakletos is the Holy Spirit.” Exactly. But how does the Holy Spirit function? Let’s let Jesus answer. He tells the disciples, “A little while longer and the world will see Me no more, but you will see Me” (verse 19). To those who love Him and keep His commandments, Jesus says, “I will love him and manifest Myself to him” (verse 21). This puzzles Judas, who asks, “Lord, how is it that You will manifest Yourself to us, and not to the world?” (verse 22).
The dative case of the pronoun “him” is capable of meaning either “to him” or “in him.” Judas misunderstood Him to mean that He would somehow show Himself “to” them in such a way that others would be unable to see Him. Friberg’s lexicon makes a distinction between the literal meaning of the verb translated as “manifest” and correctly explains its meanings in this dialogue — “(1) lit. make visible, show, manifest (John 14:22)” and “fig. of Jesus’ self-revelation inwardly communicated manifest, make known, reveal” (John 14:21) (from BibleWorks software).
Jesus Christ Dwells and Reveals Himself in us by the Holy Spirit
The context makes this meaning very clear. Jesus speaks of being “in you” (verse 20). After Judas’ question, he says more plainly, “My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him” (verse 23). The noun ismone, the same word we saw in verse 1, where it refers to our eternal destiny of permanently dwelling with the Father. In verse 23, the word is “used metaphorically of . . . the Holy Spirit indwelling believers” (Strong’s information from BibleWorks software).
Verbrugge notes that although the term parakletos appears only in John’s writings, “Still the other Evangelists express aspects of this teaching in other ways. Matt., for example, speaks of Christ’s continued presence and help in a way that does not involve His physical presence (Matthew 18:20).” So he concludes, “what in Matt. and Lk. is depicted as the continuing presence and work of Jesus in the post-resurrection church is depicted by Jn. as the activity of the parakletos of Jesus” (Verbrugge, page 972).
Jesus Christ, Alias the Parakletos
At the conclusion of His discourse recorded in John 14-16, Jesus said, “These things I have spoken to you in figurative language.” Zodhiates explains the meaning of the Greek word paroimia in this passage as, “a figurative discourse, a dark saying, obscure and full of hidden meaning” (The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament, by Spiros Zodhiates, page 1121). So Jesus spoke of “another” parakletos as a cryptic reference to Himself in His then future role of dwelling within His disciples, by means of the Holy Spirit after His resurrection and ascension to the throne of God (John 7:39, 20:17, 22).
He hints at the identity of this parakletos in John 14:17, by saying, “you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you.” Christ has been a parakletos to them while He was with them in the flesh. After His resurrection, He would fulfill the same role by living within them through the Holy Spirit.
Referring to the specific functions of the parakletos described in John 14-16, Leon Morris admits, “It is worth noting that without exception, these functions assigned to the Spirit are elsewhere in this Gospel assigned to Christ. Thus He is in the disciples (14:20, 15:4, 5), He is their teacher (7:14, 13:13). As the Paraclete bears witness, so does Jesus (8:14)” (Morris, page 663).
Jesus Christ, alias the parakletos, fulfills the same role today as He did during His earthly ministry. Friedrich sums it up well: “The coming of the Paraclete implies an unbroken continuity of the coming of Jesus. The only point is that the form of coming has changed, the personal coming being replaced by the pneumatic [spiritual]” (Theological Dictionary of the New Testament edited by Gerhard Friedrich, Vol. 2, page 673).
Paul Writes About Christ in us Through the Holy Spirit
In Galatians 2:20 Paul writes, “Christ lives in me,” and also speaks of Christ in other believers (Romans 8:10; II Corinthians 13:5). In Romans 8:9-10, the expressions “Spirit of God,” “Spirit of Christ,” and “Christ in you” are used interchangeably.
Later in the same chapter he writes, “Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God,” (Romans 8:26-27). Although parakletos does not occur in this passage, it speaks of Jesus acting as a parakletos by interceding on behalf of the saints through the Holy Spirit.
Summarizing the Promise of the Parakletos
F. F. Bruce gives a good summary of the promise of the parakletos as described in John 14:16-17: “The word parakletos is best understood as . . . denoting one who is called alongside as a helper or defender, a friend in court. Jesus’ mention of ‘another’ Paraclete implies that they already have One, and this One can only be Himself. In I John 2:1, indeed, Jesus is called ‘our “Paraclete” with the Father’; the word is there aptly rendered ‘Advocate’, from Latin advocatus. . . . But in I John 2:1, Jesus’ advocacy is exercised in the heavenly court; in our present passage it is implied that He had been His disciples’ advocate or paraclete on earth. So indeed He had been while He was with them; He had been their champion and helper, the One on whose guidance and support they could rely; but now He was about to leave them . . . but the ‘other paraclete’ would be with them permanently, and not only with them but in them” (The Gospel of John, by F. F. Bruce, page 302).
No wonder Jesus told the disciples, “Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. You have heard Me say to you, I am going away and coming back to you. If you loved Me, you would rejoice because I said, I am going to the Father, for My Father is greater than I,” (John 14:27-28). He is implying that He will be able to do far more for them by His indwelling presence through the Holy Spirit than He was able to do for them while He was with them in the flesh.
We can also rejoice in the promise of the parakletos. Peter said on the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was first poured out, “For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call,” (Acts 2:39).
— Ó2002 by Larry J. Walker, used by permission. W
Question: “Do you believe Holy Spirit Baptism with the evidence of speaking in tongues? Do you believe that Jesus is God?” Y.I., Australia
Answer: Yes, we do believe in baptism and the Holy Spirit. As Peter explains in Acts 2:38, one must repent, be baptized in the name of Jesus, and then receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. After baptism, the elders lay hands on the head of the person just baptized, praying for the receipt of the Holy Spirit. Receiving God’s Spirit baptizes you into the body of Christ, the Church, I Corinthians 12:13. The evidence of the Holy Spirit is the fruit of the Spirit of God in our lives, Galatians 5:22-25. All do not speak in tongues, I Corinthians 12:27-31. Please read the article, “Speaking in Tongues,” at www.giveshare.org/library/hwa/tongues.html.
Jesus is the Son of God. He is also the everlasting Father, the mighty God, Isaiah 9:6. He was the God, Yahweh, of the Old Testament, I Corinthians 10:1-4. May you follow Jesus and the Heavenly Father always. — by Richard C. Nickels W