The Paraclete in the Gospel of John

In the Gospel of John we come across the theme of the Holy Spirit. St John calls him παράκλητος in Greek with its Latin rendition being paracletus. This important theological and pneumatological term in John means that the Holy Spirit is the ‘advocate’ or ‘helper’.

In fact, the word paraclete comes from the Koine Greek word παράκλητος (paráklētos). A combination of para (‘beside/alongside’) and kalein (‘to call’),[1] the word first appears in the Bible. in John 14:16. Here Jesus says: And I will pray the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, to be with you for ever.

It is interesting to see what the Dominican biblical scholar Fr René Kieffer O.P. writes concerning the devolpment of the meaning of paraclete in “John,” in John Barton and John Muddiman, eds., The Oxford Bible Commentary: “The word parakletos is a verbal adjective, often used of one called to help in a lawcourt. In the Jewish tradition the word was transcribed with Hebrew letters and used for angels, prophets, and the just as advocates before God’s court. The word also acquired the meaning of ‘one who consoles’ (cf. Job 16:2, Theodotion’s and Aquila’s translations; the LXX has the correct word parakletores). It is probably wrong to explain the Johannine parakletos on the basis of only one religious background. The word is filled with a complex meaning: the Spirit replaces Jesus, is an advocate and a witness, but also consoles the disciples”.

The Spirit of Truth or the Paraclete is introduced in John 14:16. Amongst others he offers the following benefit: If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will pray the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, to be with you for ever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him; you know him, for he dwells with you, and will be in you (John 14:15-17).

It seems that we are to interpret all these statements regarding the Paraclete as a gift given by the Father through the Son. Of special interest is the role which the Paraclete plays in John 14:25-26: These things I have spoken to you, while I am still with you. But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. This is the only time that the Fourth Gospel uses the title Holy Spirit in the farwell discourse of Jesus.

All these lead us to see the meaning of the word parakletos, a word which only the Fourth Gospel uses it in the New Testament when it talks about the Spirit. There are four meanings of the word parakletos which also suggests that there are also four ways that we can actually translate this word. The first two what they have in common is that that they come from a lawcourt language of the times of Jesus, as Fr Kieffer O.P. rightly suggests. As a matter of fact, the word “paraclete” can mean “someone who is called to stand by yourside to help you” at court. Therefore, in the translation it is translated as ADVOCATE.

The second meaning resembles the one before. The paraclete is the one who “intercedes on your behalf”. Again, the context is a legal one in court. The paraclete is the defense counsel who is speaking in the name of the accused. Sometimes the word which is introduced is the “counselor”. The two other meanings of the word parakletos are not linked with legal meanings or that of the court. The first meaning is that of “somebody who consoles”. At other times “somebody who exhorts or reprimands”.

The Paraclete is identified in various manners. First, he is another Counselor which implies that Jesus is the first one (John 14:16). Second,  the Spirit of truth (John 14:17; 15:26; 16:13). Third, the Holy Spirit (John 14:26).

The function of the of the Paraclete can be divided into two categories. In his relationship with the disciples, the Paraclete, can be known from the disciples (John 14:17). Second, He dwells within the disciples and remains with them (John 14:16-17). Third, the Paraclete is their teacher (John 16: 13). Fourth, the Paraclete will declare to them things that are to come (John 16:13). Fifth, the Paraclete will glorify Jesus (John 16:14). Sixth, the Paraclete will bear witness of Jesus (John 15:26). Seventh, the Paraclete will bring to the disciples’ remembrance what Jesus has said to them. Eighth, the Paraclete whatever he hears he will speak (John 16:13).

In John’s gospel the relationship of the Paraclete with the world has a particular trail to follow. First, the world cannot receive the Paraclete (John 14:17). Second, the world cannot see and know the Paraclete (John 14:17). Third, The world is judged, is wrong  and guilty of sin from the Paraclete (John 16:8-11).

Hence, St John solves this problem by his doctrine on the Paraclete. The Paraclete is the mediator of that which Jesus taught to the Christians of all time. Therefore, the Fourth Gospel highlights that the Paraclete does not teach new teaching but only that which Jesus taught (see John 14:26). The Paraclete is the witness of the revelation of God in Jesus Christ (John 15:26).

Dear Holy Spirit, Divine Comforter! The Paraclete!

You are my other Counselor, my Spirit of truth.

Make me know You. Dwell within and remain with me.

Be my teacher.

Declare to me the things that are to come.

Glorify Jesus within me.

Bear witness of Jesus to me.

Make me remember what Jesus has told me in the Gospel.

Whatever You hear from the Father and the Son make it known to me. Amen.

Fr Mario Attard OFM Cap