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A theological assessment and interpretation of the Johannine Paraclete-Spirit

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A theological assessment and interpretation of the Johannine Paraclete-Spirit

1. Introduction

In his article in the Anchor Bible Dictionary J. Ashton (1996:152) asked:

Is it possible to find a figure in near-contemporary religious belief and practice who may plausibly be thought to have furnished a model for the Johannine Paraclete? Suggestions are wide-ranging and include the returning Elijah (Spitta); the Mandaean Yawar or helper (Bauer Johannesevangelium Handbuch zum Neuen Testament; Bultmann); Old Testament and Jewish intercessors, both angelic and prophetic, in particular the angel Michael or the mediator (mēlı̄ṣ) in Job 33:23, translated in the Targum by the loanword prqlyt˒ (Mowinckel, Johansson); the fusion of two figures from the Qumran documents, Michael and “the spirit of truth” (Betz), a fusion which, according to another scholar (Johnston), the Paraclete was designed to combat and displace, the second or successor figure in a tandem relationship: Joshua/Moses, Elisha/Elijah (Windisch), to which Bornkamm added John the Baptist/Jesus; late Jewish angelology and the figure of personified Wisdom (Brown 1966–67). Müller (1974) has supplemented these suggestions by arguing for a properly form-critical investigation into the testament or valedictory form. Another proposal comes from Franck (1985), who thinks that the Paraclete may have been modeled on the Methurgeman, who had to translate and (later) preach upon the Scripture readings in Aramaic-speaking synagogues. Lastly, one may mention Hermann Sasse’s proposal (1925), revived by Culpepper (1975), that the Paraclete is simply to be identified with the Beloved Disciple.

In response I am arguing that we will not “discover” one specific figure in the socio-cultural environment of the first Century Mediterranean world that describes the Johannine Paraclete adequately. I am arguing contra Windisch (1927) that the Paraclete sayings cannot be removed from the Gospel without loss of continuity. I am also suggesting that there is no clear indication that the evangelist inserted the Paraclete sayings into the discourse from a source in which they were grouped together.

There is no single obvious meaning of Paraclete in the Johannine Gospel. As Lindars (1981: 63) observes, “the evangelist is aware that the title is not self-explanatory, since he accompanies each of its occurrences with an account of the Paraclete’s function.”

Nevertheless, the Johannine Paraclete-Spirit figure fulfilled a very unique and specific function in the ancient world as portrayed in the Johannine narrative. Given the information gathered in my research we can say that in the Johannine milieu the Paraclete-Spirit functioned as a teacher, a guide and instructor, an advocate and a witness, an agent of renewal and a companion.

Maybe one of the greatest deficiencies of some of earlier studies of this topic is the fact that scholars tried to lock these functions into one socio-cultural setting and tried to explain the whole concept from that vantage point.

We should take a leaf out of the book of G. Parsenios (2005) regarding the way he approached the Johannine Farewell Discourses. He indicates that in the past scholars have usually interpreted the Fourth Gospel either as functioning within a Greek socio-cultural setting or within a Judaist socio-cultural setting. He contends that this is wrong. He plays with the concept of the one and the many. It should not be an either or, but a both and more. Secondly, he also indicates that it would not be right to see the genre of the Farewell discourse as that of a Testament or an ancient drama of tragedy. We should see it as both and more. The Farewell discourses are not merely one more example of the biblical testament. They also resonate with the Greek tragedy, ancient consolation literature and the literary symposium. He thirdly also suggested that we should see the Farewell Discourses as more unified and yet also more diverse. It is more unified in the sense that we the many discourses actually form one narrative unit. It is more diverse since this one narrative unit makes use of multiple genres simultaneously.

2. The identity of the Paraclete-Spirit

What does Parsenios’ view have to do with the Paraclete-Spirit? It is my contention that the Johannine perspective regarding the Paraclete-Spirit operates in a much similar fashion. We should not seek the identity of the Paraclete-Spirit in any one specific socio-cultural background or setting. He is neither a Jewish nor a Greek figure, but both and more. He functions in all social-cultural settings. Any one-dimensional assumption regarding the socio-cultural origin of this enigmatic figure would ultimately lead to dissatisfaction.

Furthermore, we could also state that there is also a surprisingly simple solution regarding the origin of this enigmatic figure. Although he function is all socio-cultural environments, the Johannine perspective is consistent. The Paraclete-Spirit is always under discussion in the immediate context of and in comparison with Jesus. Is this not one of the most important snippets of information given regarding the Paraclete-Spirit?

Johannine Narrative reveals that Jesus' departure from the world will be followed by the appearance of the Paraclete-Spirit. The Johannine Paraclete-Spirit is no more or less an inscrutable, unfathomable and enigmatic figure than the Johannine Jesus. There is no one with whom we can compare Jesus, since he is from above. However, we have someone from above that precedes the Paraclete-Spirit with whom we can compare him – Jesus himself.  The confusion surrounding the Paraclete-Spirit does not arise from the Johannine narrative itself, but from efforts to define this term accurately.

A specific problem presents itself when we try to apply an appropriate meaning to the Greek word that corresponds with the activities allocated to the Johannine Paraclete-Spirit. Problems arise when scholars attempt to place the Paraclete-Spirit in a specific socio-cultural context. We have established that these two subjects of debate, the title and the background of the figure that carries the title still have not been resolved. We have also adjudged that the Paraclete-Spirit is unmistakably the Holy Spirit and is accordingly identified in John 14:26.

A variety of scholars recognize that what is said of the Paraclete-Spirit is not incompatible with what is said throughout the New Testament of the Holy Spirit.[1] Even so, the relation of the Paraclete-Spirit in the Parting Discourses to the Holy Spirit in the remainder of the Gospel has been a matter of debate.

Nevertheless, for all of the difficulty in trying to understand the background of the Paraclete-Spirit, the figure's actual functions in the Johannine narrative are relatively straightforward.

Even more to point, the Johannine Paraclete-Spirit is best understood, not in relation to other biblical figures outside the Johannine Gospel, but in relation to the Johannine Jesus. The close connection between Jesus and the Paraclete-Spirit is a primary concern of this narrative.[2]

3. The Paraclete-Spirit and Jesus

The Paraclete-Spirit continues Jesus' work. The Paraclete-Spirit will teach and remind the disciples of all that Jesus said to them (John 14:26), he will testify on behalf of Jesus (John 15:26), and he will proclaim only what is heard from Jesus (John 16:13). As Jesus says, "... he will take what is mine and declare it to you" (John 16:14).

There is still, however, a more profound facet to the connection of Jesus and the Paraclete-Spirit that was revealed. The Paraclete-Spirit does not merely succeed Jesus and complete his earthly work; he also somehow "re-presents" Jesus. That the Paraclete-Spirit makes Jesus present is implicit in Jesus' promise that he will send another Paraclete to the disciples (ἄλλον παράκλητον John 14:16). The expression stresses that Jesus himself is the ἑνός παράκλητος. This unspoken association is made clear in a number of statements about the Paraclete-Spirit that we can compare with statements about Jesus.

Exegetical analyses indicate these comparisons. It starts to a certain extent very discreetly. The Paraclete is described as τὸ πνεῦμα τῆς ἀληθείας in (John 14:17; 15:26; 16:13), and Jesus is called ἀλήθεια (John 14:6). Jesus is said to be the ἅγιος τοῦ θεοῦ (John 6:69), while the Paraclete-Spirit is identified as the πνεῦμα τὸ ἅγιον (John 14:26). In a similar way John reminds us that the Paraclete-Spirit ἔλθῃ (John 15:26; 16:7, 8, 13), just as Jesus ἐλήλυθα ἐν τῷ ὀνόματι τοῦ πατρός (John 5:43).  What was said about Jesus is just as true for the Paraclete-Spirit ἐξῆλθον παρὰ τοῦ πατρὸς καὶ ἐλήλυθα εἰς τὸν κόσμον. Both have "come into the world" (John 16:28, 18:37).

Both the Paraclete-Spirit (ἐκπορεύεται) and Jesus (ἐξέρχομαι) come forth from the Father. The Father ἔδωκεν the Son (John 3:16), and likewise he δώσει the Paraclete-Spirit when the Son requests it to be done (John 14:16). Similarly, just as the Father ἀπέστειλεν the Son (John 3:17), he πέμψει the Paraclete (John 14:26).

This is not where this comparison ends. When it comes to interaction with the disciples, the connections become even more explicit. For instance, while the world cannot γινώσκει or know the Paraclete-Spirit, the disciples γινώσκετε him (John 14:17), just as they γινώσκετε and ἑωράκατε Jesus (John 14:7, 9).

Both the Paraclete-Spirit (John 14:17) and Jesus (John 14:20, 23; 15:4, 5; 17:23, 26) are to μονή with - and within - the disciples. Where the Paraclete-Spirit will guide (ὁδηγήσει) the disciples ἐν τῇ ἀληθείᾳ πάσῃ (John 16:13), Jesus is the Way (ὁδὸς) and the Truth (ἀλήθεια) according to John 14:6. The Paraclete-Spirit teaches (διδάξει) the disciples (John 14:26-27), just as Jesus teaches (διδάσκων) the people (John 6:59; 7:14, 18).

The Paraclete-Spirit μαρτυρήσει as a witness (John 15:26), just as Jesus μαρτυρῶ as a witness (John 8:14). In addition, the teaching and the testimony of the Paraclete-Spirit are exclusively about Jesus (John 14:26; 16:12-13). This is functionally equivalent to the way in which all of Jesus' teaching and testimony are about the Father (John 8:28; 7:27-28; 14:13; 17:4).

In the Johannine narrative we find analogous examples of interaction concerning the disciples and the world. The world cannot accept (John 14:17), or see (John 14:17), or know the Paraclete-Spirit (John 14:17), just as it cannot accept (John 5:43) or see (John 16: 16) or know (John 16:3) Jesus. Conversely the disciples can accept, see and know both Jesus and the Paraclete-Spirit.

It is evident therefore, from the Johannine narrative perspective that the work of Jesus and the work of the Paraclete-Spirit overlap in a variety of contexts and fashions. R. Brown (1984:1141) articulates the consequences of this relationship as follows: “Thus, the one whom John calls ‘another Paraclete’ is another Jesus. Since the Paraclete-Spirit can come only when Jesus departs, the Paraclete-Spirit is the presence of Jesus when Jesus is absent.”[3]

This function of the Paraclete-Spirit as Jesus' double comes directly form the Johannine narrative. It comes through most clearly in the first Paraclete-Spirit passage in the expression about ἄλλον παράκλητον (John 14:16-17). However, in this passage, none of the other functions of the Paraclete-Spirit (teaching, guiding, assisting, reminding, testifying, convicting or prosecuting) come into view. We are told, in the words of R. Schnackenburg (1982:75), that all that is mentioned in John 14:16-17 is that the Paraclete-Spirit is given to the disciples and "his significance for the disciples in the world is emphasized."[4]

Jesus promises that ἄλλον παράκλητον will come to the disciples after he himself has departed. Up to this time, Jesus has fulfilled the role of Paraclete but now another will be sent in his place. This means more than that the Paraclete-Spirit will do what Jesus did in Jesus' absence as R. Brown stated.

It is also important to understand that this not just a case of action. When Jesus promises that the Paraclete-Spirit will ἵνα μεθ᾽ ὑμῶν εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα   (John 14:16) that expression calls to mind the aphorism documented in Matthew, where Christ promises to his disciples, ἐγὼ μεθ᾽ ὑμῶν εἰμι πάσας τὰς ἡμέρας ἕως τῆς συντελείας τοῦ αἰῶνος (Matthew 28:20). The important distinction is that what Matthew depicts Christ saying about himself, the Johannine narrative perspective applies to the Paraclete-Spirit. This highlights the fact that the Johannine message is unequivocally that the Paraclete-Spirit is Christ's agent of eternal presence with his disciples.

G. Johnston (1970:86) observation that after Jesus' departure the spirit of truth will come to help the faithful and to represent their Lord is therefore correct. However, Johnston does not interpret the Holy Spirit as personal, but merely as a power. It seems more appropriate given the consistent comparison between Jesus and the Paraclete-Spirit as indicated earlier that the personal presence of the Paraclete-Spirit makes up for the absence of Christ.[5] In other words, the Paraclete-Spirit is making Jesus present to the disciples in a different form and manner. Without in reality being Jesus, he takes the place of Jesus and makes Jesus present at the same time. For these reasons I have stated in the exegetical section that the Paraclete-Spirit fulfils the functions of the earthly Jesus and more.

G. Parsenios (2005:82-83) asserts that there is a close association between the Paraclete-Spirit saying in John 14:15-17, and the subsequent statements about Jesus' return in 14:18-21. This connection expands the present discussion. The descriptions of the Paraclete-Spirit's "coming and indwelling" and the "coming back and indwelling of Jesus" are placed in a parallel relationship.[6] The following chart demonstrates these connections the best:

  Paraclete Jesus
  14: 15-17 14: 18-21
Necessary to love Jesus, keep his commands 15 21
Giving of Paraclete; coming back of Jesus 16 18
World will not see Paraclete or Jesus 17 19
Disciples will recognize Paraclete and Jesus 17 19
Paraclete and Jesus will dwell in the disciples 17 20

R. Brown (1982:644) declares: “This kind of parallelism is John's way of telling the reader that the presence of Jesus after his return to the Father is accomplished in and through the Paraclete-Spirit. Not two presences but the same presence is involved.”

G. Parsenios (2005:82) rightly states that with the last phrase of Brown's quotation, a corrective, or at least a caution, can be included in the “harmony of presence” that very clearly exists between Jesus and the Paraclete-Spirit. Following the promise in the first Paraclete passage (John 14:16-17), Jesus promises to come to the disciples (John 14:18).

What is the significance of this? According to G. Parsenios (2005:83)

...most modern scholars connects these promises to the post-Resurrection appearances of Jesus. As the resurrected one, Jesus will not leave the disciples orphans, but will come to them ‘in a little while’ (John 14:18-19). But, the idea that this will keep the disciples from being orphans is not satisfying. For, if this is the right reading, then Jesus will once again leave them orphans after his final departure. A more permanent presence is needed, and, for this reason, many people, in ancient and modern scholarship, have argued for some other form of Jesus' coming to the disciples.[7]

In Johannine thought the Paraclete-Spirit has taken on a fuller or more precise character – the character of Jesus. In Johannine thought the personality of Jesus has become the personality of the Paraclete-Spirit. As the Logos of revelation (and Wisdom) has been identified with the earthly Jesus and stamped with the impress of his character (John 1:1-18), so the Spirit of revelation has been brought into conjunction with the heavenly Jesus and bears the stamp of his personality.

D. Aune (1972:126-135), G. Beasley-Murray (1999:258), G. Borchert (2002:126), R. Brown (1984:1141), I. De la Potterie (1976:120-140), C. Keener (2003: 966-969), A. Köstenberger (2004:438-440), F. Moloney (1998:43-44), G. Parsenios (2005:83), are all right in debating that this permanent presence is reflected in the sending of the Paraclete-Spirit. Justification for this lies above in the various sets of parallels between the consonant activity of Jesus and the Paraclete-Spirit, especially in the close connection between what is promised about the Paraclete-Spirit in John 14: 16-17 and what is promised of Jesus in John 14:18-21. Some scholars rightly pointed out that most of the personal functions of the Paraclete-Spirit are found in parallels with Jesus. [8] R. Berg (1988:70-71) and E. Franck (1985:38, 83-84) both mention that the post-Pentecost believers saw the Paraclete-Spirit as personal because they experiences him as the personal presence of Jesus or the mediator of that presence.[9]

G. Parsenios (2005:83) contends that the sending of the Paraclete-Spirit seems to fulfil the promise that Jesus will return. He debates, however, that R. Brown (1984:1141) might have gone too far in referring to the Paraclete-Spirit as "another Jesus." According to F. Moloney (1998:44) the Paraclete-Spirit and Jesus can be closely associated only if one recognizes that they are also distinct.[10] Even though the disciples can experience Jesus' life-giving presence through the Paraclete-Spirit, Jesus is, in fact, departing from the world (John 14:19).

The Paraclete-Spirit will be to the disciples what Jesus himself has been to them, yet the Paraclete-Spirit is not Jesus. The coming of the Paraclete-Spirit will be equivalent to a coming of Jesus, and yet the Paraclete-Spirit is not Jesus. This indicates that in Johannine thought there is a unique relation between Jesus and the Paraclete-Spirit.

F. Moloney (1998:43) feels very strong about the fact that the distinction between the physical Jesus, who is departing, and the "other Paraclete," who will be given (John 14:16), must be maintained". Here we can agree with G. Johnston (1970:87) who states that the Paraclete-Spirit is "another Jesus" only in the sense that he is Jesus' representative. Yet, he does make Jesus present, inasmuch as he re-presents Jesus (G. Johnston, 1970:86). This is analogous to what is said in 1 John 3:24: "We know that he (Jesus Christ) abides in us by the Spirit which he has given us."

G. Parsenios (2005:84) concludes that although the place of the Paraclete-Spirit in the history of ancient religious thought is hard to pinpoint precisely, the role of the Paraclete-Spirit within the Gospel is relatively clear. The findings of the current study affirm this view. The perspective of the Johannine narrative is quite clear: The Paraclete-Spirit represents Jesus, after his departure. Furthermore, what is said regarding the Paraclete-Spirit is modelled on what is said about Jesus, especially in the first Paraclete-Spirit passage (John 14:15-17).

We have seen in the earlier discussions that this is undoubtedly not the only function of the Paraclete-Spirit. What is important, nevertheless, is the fact that the Johannine Gospel itself and the Johannine perspective provide us with the most important critical information to comprehend who the Paraclete-Spirit is. When you consider the literature available, however, it becomes apparent that the most difficult thing about John's Paraclete-Spirit is that the Paraclete-Spirit is resembles loosely a variety of other figures (prophets, angels, Moses/Joshua typology) but corresponds not to any one of these figures exactly and accurately.

We find that in Johannine thought the foundation for a distinctive religious experience of believers would be the distinctive features of the Johannine Paraclete-Spirit and his relation to Jesus. The Paraclete-Spirit is the Spirit of Jesus – that is, he continues the work of Jesus. We can put it more strongly in Johannine terms: He continues the presence of Jesus. John brings this out in a variety of ways. It is implied in John 1:32-34 where the Paraclete-Spirit descended on Jesus and remained on him ἔμεινεν ἐπ᾽ αὐτόν.  It seems that according to Johannine thought the ‘fusion’[11] of Jesus and the Paraclete-Spirit was sustained during Jesus’ ministry and continued after his departure.[12]

The πνεῦμα that came from above brings about new life. The Johannine narrative states that the experience of this new life alone does not sufficiently characterise the activity of the Paraclete-Spirit (John 3:5-8; 4:10-14; 6:63; 7:37-39; 20:22).

The importance of this Johannine thought is that it presents an immediate and direct continuity between believers and Jesus. As Dunn (1975:251) states: “The lengthening time gap between John and the historical Jesus, and the continuing delay of the Parousia do not mean a steadily increasing distance between each generation of Christians and the Christ. On the contrary, each generation is as close to Jesus as the last – and the first – because the Paraclete is the immediate link between Jesus and his disciples in every generation. That is to say, the Spirit provided the link and continuity not the sacraments or offices or human figures. The vitality of Christian experience does not cease because the historical Jesus has faded into the past and the coming of Jesus has faded into the future; it retains its vitality because the Spirit is at work here and now as the other Paraclete.”

4. Theological significance of the Johannine Description of Paraclete as Spirit 

It is a well-known fact that the Greek word πνεῦμα is a neuter gender word.[13] It would therefore be fair to assume that any pronoun used to substitute πνεῦμα should normally also be neuter. However, John did not follow this grammatical pattern. Instead, he used masculine pronouns to designate the Paraclete-Spirit.

| !!!! Some Masculine Pronouns For The Paraclete-Spirit


| !!!!! Text

| Noun | !!!!!! Masculine Pronoun


John 14:16John 15:26John 15:26John 16:7John 26:8John 16:13John 16:14 Παράκλητον (masc)πνεῦμα (neuter)πνεῦμα (neuter)παράκλητος (masc)παράκλητος (inferred) πνεῦμα (neuter)πνεῦμα (neuter) ἄλλονἐκεῖνος ὃναὐτὸνἐκεῖνοςἐκεῖνος ἐκεῖνος

In John 14:17 we have the neuter noun πνεῦμα with the neuter pronoun according to the general grammatical rule. However, in the cases mentioned in the table above the general grammatical rule is not followed. We are suggesting that we should consider that the Johannine author changed the grammatical rule on purpose, in the abovementioned cases, to emphasise the personal character of the Paraclete-Spirit.

As motivation for this view, we are arguing that there would have been no reason to change from the neuter to the masculine in John 15:26, 16:13 and 14 unless the Paraclete-Spirit was understood to be a person.[14] We might therefore interpret this to imply that the Johannine Paraclete-Spirit is in nature similar to the Father as he is similar to the Son and that this text might be used amongst others to indicate that he is the third person of the Trinity.

However, it is important to keep in mind that John did not develop a cut-and-dried Trinitarian theology. At most we can say there are glimpses of Trinitarian thought. Such a doctrine can only be addressed from the whole of Scripture and should not be addressed from only one biblical author. Nevertheless, it is permissible to try and identify the glimpses that the Johannine narrative gives us that infer the deity of the Paraclete-Spirit. The following descriptions are worth mentioning [15]

5. Johannine indications of the deity of the Paraclete-Spirit

5.1. The Omnipotence of the Paraclete-Spirit

In John we read that the Paraclete-Spirit is metaphorically compared with the wind that blows where it wishes (John 3:8). We also read that Jesus could minister the way he ministered, performing the miracles that he performed, because the Paraclete-Spirit iss ἔμεινεν ἐπ᾽ αὐτόν according to John 1:32 and μένον ἐπ᾽ αὐτόν in John 1:33. Jesus promised his disciples that they would do even greater works once the Paraclete-Spirit has come (John 14:12). We could say that John portrays a picture of the Paraclete-Spirit as all-powerful. However, this point could be argued much stronger if you take texts like Luke 1:35, Micah 2:8 and Isaiah 40:28 into consideration as well.[16]

5.2. The Omnipresence of the Paraclete-Spirit

In Psalm 139 David exclaims that He cannot flee from the presence of the Spirit of God.[17] If he ascends to heaven, He is there. If he descends into the depths of the earth, the Spirit is there also. Even if he could fly away swiftly, he could not escape the presence of the Spirit.  This is an Old Testament perspective of the omnipresence of the Holy Spirit. The omnipresence of the Spirit is also taught in the Johannine Gospel. John 14:17 where Christ taught the disciples that the Spirit would dwell in them all, is an inference of the Spirit’s omnipresence.

5.3. The Eternal Character of the Paraclete-Spirit

In Hebrews 9:14 The Holy Spirit is called the Eternal Spirit.[18] Through the Eternal Spirit Jesus offered Himself without blemish to God. In Johannine thought the Paraclete-Spirit ἵνα μεθ᾽ ὑμῶν εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα (John 14:16). We could interpret εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα to mean, “He will be unto eternity”. We can infer from this that the Johannine Paraclete-Spirit is an eternal being.

5.4. The Holiness of the Paraclete-Spirit

One important aspect of deity is that God is holy, entirely set apart and separated from sin and sinners. If we take John 14:26 into account, the most common name for the Paraclete-Spirit is Holy Spirit. This indicates that the Spirit also possesses the transcendent attribute of deity.

5.5. The Truthfulness of the Paraclete-Spirit as Spirit of Truth

The Paraclete-Spirit is named the τὸ πνεῦμα τῆς ἀληθείας in John 14:17 and 15:26. Just as Christ was the truth (John 14:6) so the Paraclete-Spirit is the truth and guides and leads people to the Truth and into the truth through the Scriptures.

There is an odd emphasis on experience today among Christians. We might accept that faith is also experiential. But, although faith is experiential it should also be recognized that according to the Johannine perspective the Paraclete-Spirit will never lead a believer into an “experience” that is contrary to the Word of God (John 16:13-14). This implies that according to John a spiritual experience is only valid insofar as it agrees with the Word of God. It seems to me that in Johannine thought the Paraclete-Spirit would lead or guide believers into an experience of Jesus, his truth, his message and his ministry. This experience, to know and to understand Jesus, would change the lives of people.[19] False spirits will bring false teaching, but John argues that once we hear what they have to say about Jesus, we can judge whether what they proclaim is true or false. We could go so far as to say that there is a real danger of people proclaiming that they received a message from the Holy Spirit or, as they state from God, but since their proclamation does not agree with the biblical revelation, concerning the revelatory work of the Paraclete-Spirit, it should be seen as false teaching. Johannine Pneumatology enables us to address this danger with its focus on the fact of the Paraclete-Spirit’s focus on Jesus in his ministry.

5.6. The Paraclete-Spirit as Aid to Believers

In John 14:16 Jesus promised the disciples ἄλλον παράκλητον. In Johannine thought, the Paraclete-Spirit is “another of the same kind” as Christ, an Adviser who is called alongside to enable the believer to carry on in times of want and need. It seems to me that the Paraclete-Spirit’s work as the believer’s ἄλλον παράκλητον accentuates His deity since His work is similar to Christ’s in His role as παράκλητος.

As explained, it seems apparent that the Johannine description of the works of the Paraclete-Spirit point toward His deity – His oneness within the Godhead, together with the Father and the Son.[20]

5.7. The Paraclete-Spirit is given and sent by both the Father and the Son    

This is a difficult and contentious topic to discuss. It is not only difficult and contentious because of the debate and division that continues since at least ce 381 to the present day, it is also difficult and contentious because of the fact that much is debated but little is exegeted. It seems more often than not as if systematic theologians have tried to force texts to say what they want them to say. In our discussion here we need to keep in mind that the concept Trinity is a dogmatic one and not an exegetical one. We also need to acknowledge that when we talk about procession we immediately are on the terrain of systematic theology for the relationship of the Paraclete-Spirit to the other members of the Trinity is expressed in systematic theology by the term procession, indicating the Holy Spirit came forth from both the Father and the Son. The Constantinople creed affirmed this doctrine in ce 381. At Constantinople the Nicene Creed was amended in an attempt to address the heresy of the Pneumatomachi who denied the deity of the Holy Spirit. To the Nicene: “We believe in the Holy Spirit” was added “The Lord and Giver of Life”. This addition was to make it abundantly clear that the Church (East and West) believed that the Holy Spirit is God, like the Father and the Son.

6. Conclusion

The Paraclete-Spirit in the Johannine Gospel works to glorify Jesus, as the Son of the Father.  We noted that Jesus’ role is to make the Father known. The Spirit and the Son as a result operate together so that the world may know the Father, and in knowing him, may become his children. Omnipresence, inwardness, and permanence — are three marks and new phases of Jesus activity are as a result of the ever-present Paraclete-Spirit rendered possible. All of these were either excluded by the conditions of Jesus’ earthly life or could only manifest themselves imperfectly. But once the Paraclete-Spirit has come this will change. The Johannine Gospel culminates theologically in the glorious notion of God Himself eternally present in the believer, through the Paraclete-Spirit who unites us with Jesus as Jesus is united with the Father.

Through Jesus’ sending the Paraclete-Spirit becomes active in the life of his disciples. And through the Paraclete-Spirit coming Jesus is present with his disciples. Because of the presence of the Paraclete-Spirit Jesus’ followers become partakers in Jesus’ life and work through faith in Him that the Paraclete-Spirit empowers them to have. The Paraclete-Spirit takes possession of Jesus’ followers as the bringer of a new life, and supports them in their struggle with the flesh and sin. Through the ever-present Paraclete-Spirit gradually subduing mankind to Jesus as the Christ of God and to the Christ’s rule, the natural life becomes “spiritual” life. The Johannine portrayal of the Paraclete-Spirit gives us a better [fuller] understanding of the identity, role and function of the Holy Spirit. For this reason it should be seen as mandatory for Christians to take the Johannine perspective into account when they contemplate over and reflect on the doctrine of the Holy Spirit.


Aune, D.E. 1972. The Cultic Setting of Realised Eschatology in Early Christianity. Leiden: Brill.

Beasley-Murray, G. R. 1999. John. Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

Brown, R.E. 1982. The Gospel According to John. Vol. 1. London: Geoffrey Chapman.

Brown, R.E. 1984. The Gospel According to John. Vol. 2. London: Geoffrey Chapman.

Burge, G.M. 2000. John. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Casurella, A. 1983. The Johannine Paraclete in the Church Fathers: A Study in the History of Exegesis. BGBE 25. Tübingen: Mohr.

De la Potterie, I. 1976. The Paraclete. In Bible Bhasyam 2, 120-140.

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[1] See for instance R. Brown (1984:1139-1141); C. Dietzfelbinger (1997:1-12), F. Moloney (1998:48), R. Schnackenburg (1982:138-154), etc.

[2] See e.g. G. Burge (1987:197), F. Segovia (1991:94-97), and D. Tolmie (1995:134-135).

[3] H. Windisch (1968:20) might not be that far off the mark when he identified the Paraclete-Spirit as Jesus' "doppelganger" or double. He states that this comparison with the intercessory function of Jesus in heaven becomes even more evident what it is compared with John 16:26 and 1 John 2:1.

[4] R. Schnackenburg (1982:75) emphasises however, that this significance is not to be understood in the context of him being a Comforter for he has above all the task to strengthen the disciples’ faith so that they can fulfil their task in the world. Interpreted this way the basic task of the Paraclete-Spirit, as Comforter, is that of equipping for service.

[5] See here for instance C. Keener (2003:962-969).

[6] See also R. Brown (1984:644-645).

[7] F. Moloney (1998:43-44) discusses this matter in depth. See also A. Casurella (1983:43-45, and 143-144), and C. Dietzfelbinger (1997:44-66).

[8] G. Burge (1987:141) summarises the parallels between Jesus and the Spirit. 

[9] See also C. Keener (2003:965).

[10] See his discussion against A. Dettwiler (1995:100).

[11] Here we should consider the theological concept of perichoresis. Although this is not a Johannine word, the concept is very much Johannine. We see something of this mutual indwelling in John 14:11, 20-21, 23; 15:1-11; 17:21, 26, 1 John 2:5b-6, 20, 24-25; 3:9, 24; 4:13-15, and 5:20.

[12] J. Dunn (1975: 350-351) correctly states that it is implied in John 6:62-63 and John 7:37-39, where it is clear that the language of eating the flesh of Jesus and drinking the water from Jesus symbolizes the believing reception of the life-giving Spirit. It is implied in the relationship or parallelism between the ministry of Jesus and that of the 'Paraclete': for example, both come forth from the Father (John 15:26; 16:27-28); both are given and sent by the Father (John 3:16-17; 14:16, 26); both teach the disciples (John 6:59; 7:14, 28; 8:20; 14:26); both are unrecognised by the world (John 14:17; 16:3). It is implied in John 19:30 (probably) and John 20:22, where the Spirit is portrayed as the spirit-breath of Jesus. Above all it is indicated in the explicit description of the Spirit as the 'other Paraclete' or Counsellor, where Jesus is clearly understood as the first Paraclete (1 John 2:1) and by the fact that the coming of the Spirit obviously fulfils the promise of Jesus to come again and dwell in his disciples (John 14:15-26). In short, 'the Paraclete is the presence of Jesus when Jesus is absent'.

[13] This is one of the main reasons why the Unitarians do not accept that the Holy Spirit as a distinct person separate from the Father and the Son.

[14] In 1988 I argued the case of the gender of παράκλητος – that he is male, like the Father and the Son. I believe that the arguments were taking the issue too far (See J. Joubert, 1988:67). The male pronouns were not used to reveal gender, but merely to indicate personality. But even this should not be taken too far, especially when this is argued from a dogmatic perspective and not an exegetical perspective. Systematic Theology should not prescribe to the exegete the way a text is to be interpreted. Exegesis should however determine how a systematic theologian systemises doctrinal thought.

[15] Chapter three of my study of ‘The Idea of God in the Thought of Jürgen Moltmann’ indicated that there are certain attributes of God that belong distinctly to the Godhead. In Johannine thought, we get some of these distinctive attributes in relation to the Paraclete-Spirit.

[16] The omnipotence (all powerfulness) of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament is seen in creation. In Genesis 1:2 the Holy Spirit is seen hovering over creation as a hen over its young. We could say that the Holy Spirit also gave life to creation.

[17] See LXX Psalm 138:7 “ποῦ πορευθῶ ἀπὸ τοῦ πνεύματός σου καὶ ἀπὸ τοῦ προσώπου σου ποῦ φύγω,” and BHS Psalm 139:7.

[18] There is a problem in the interpretation of this passage in that it is not entirely clear whether pneuma refers to the Holy Spirit or whether it is a reference to the human spirit of Christ. Although either is possible, most scholars argue in favour of the Holy Spirit.

[19] See A. Johnson (1988).

[20] This was not the explicit reason why John stated this. His purpose was to say something about Jesus and his deity. It is only as a secondary inference that we could allude to this usage of the text. However, in germinal form this thought is present.

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