Spiritualism and the New Testament: John: The Paraclete (3)

(The first Paraclete-saying [14:16-17] was discussed in the part 1 of this article; the second saying [14:25-26] in part 2.)

Saying 3: John 15:26-27

Here is a reminder of the structure of the Last Discourse, according to my outline, divided into three distinct discourses (with an introduction and conclusion):

    • 3:31-38Introduction to the Discourse (cf. above)
    • 14:1-31Discourse/division 1Jesus’ departure
      • The relationship between Jesus and the Father (vv. 1-14)
      • Jesus’ Words for His Disciples (vv. 15-31)
    • 15:1-16:4aDiscourse/division 2—The Disciples in the World
      • Illustration of the Vine and Branches: Jesus and the Disciples (vv. 1-17)
      • Instruction and Exhortation: The Disciples and the World (15:18-16:4a)
    • 16:4b-28Discourse/division 3—Jesus’ departure (farewell)
      • The Promise of the Spirit (vv. 4b-15)
      • Jesus’ Departure and Return (vv. 16-24)
      • Concluding statement by Jesus on his departure (vv. 25-28)
    • 16:29-33Conclusion to the Discourse

The third Paraclete-saying occurs the second part of the second discourse (15:1-16:4a). The theme of this discourse I would label as “The Disciples in the World”. Thematically, the two parts of the discourse are

    • Jesus and the Disciples: Illustration of the Vine and Branches (vv. 1-17)
    • The Disciples and the World: Instruction and Exhortation (15:18-16:4a)

The first part emphasizes the union believers have with Jesus, while the second discusses how that union is manifest as believers remain in the world, facing opposition and persecution from the current world-order (ko/smo$). The Instruction/Exhortation in 15:18-16:4a is comprised of three sections:

    • Instruction: The Hatred of the World (15:18-25)
    • Exhortation: The Promise of the Spirit (vv. 26-27)
    • Concluding warning of the coming Persecution (16:1-4a)

The promise of the Spirit (exhortation) is given in the context of a description of the world’s fundamental hatred of believers—a theme that is introduced and stated succinctly in v. 18: “If the world [ko/smo$] hates you, know that it has hated me first, (before) you.” The world’s opposition to believers is rooted in its opposition to Jesus. It is because believers live and act in Jesus’ name, that the world hates them (v. 21). This is important in light of the point made in the prior Paraclete-saying (cf. Part 2), where it is stated that God the Father will send the Spirit in Jesus’ name (“in my name”).

Here is the core Paraclete-saying in v. 26:

“When the (one) called alongside [para/klhto$] should come, whom I will send to you (from) alongside [para/] the Father—the Spirit of truth, who travels out (from) alongside the Father—that (one) will give witness [marturh/sei] about me”

As in the first Paraclete-saying (14:17), the “one called alongside” is referred to as the “Spirit of truth”. On this expression, cf. the discussion in Part 1. It only needs to be added that here the motif of truth (a)lh/qeia) relates specifically to the function of the Spirit as a witness (vb marture/w). It means that the Spirit’s witness is true, that the Spirit testifies to the truth. In this case, the truth is fundamentally, and primarily, Christological (cf. below).

In the first two sayings, the Spirit is said to be sent from God the Father; however, here, Jesus says that he will send the Spirit, though the Spirit does ultimately come from the Father. There is a definite progression in these sayings:

    • The Father gives the Spirit, at Jesus’ request (14:16)
      • The Father sends the Spirit in Jesus’ name (14:26)
        • Jesus sends the Spirit from the Father (15:26)

The Spirit is “alongside” (para/) the Father, and is called (and sent) to be “alongside” (para/) believers. The Father as the ultimate source of the Spirit is confirmed by the qualifying phrase “who travels out [vb e)kporeu/omai] (from) alongside the Father”. One should not be led astray by later theological debates over this reference (i.e., the so-called Filioque controversy); it must be understood in terms of the Johannine theology and conceptual framework in the Gospel. This theology presents a clear chain of relation: the Father gives the Spirit to the Son, and the Son, in turn, gives the Spirit to believers—see, e.g., 3:27, 34-35; 5:21; 6:32, 51, 57; 17:2, 8, 12ff.

We saw that, in the second Paraclete-saying, the function of the Spirit was to teach believers “all things”, and to cause them (esp. the disciples) to remember all the things Jesus’ said and did during his earthly ministry. The function of the Spirit here is further defined as giving witness, fulfilling the role of a witness (ma/rtu$). The noun ma/rtu$ does not occur in the Johannine writings (unless one includes the book of Revelation), but the witness-motif is quite prominent, as is evidenced by the relative frequency with which the related noun marturi/a and verb marture/w are used. The noun marturi/a occurs 14 times in the Gospel, 6 times in 1 John, and once in 3 John—well over half of all NT occurrences (37); the percentage is even higher if one includes the 9 occurrences in Revelation. The verb marture/w occurs 33 times in the Gospel, 6 times in 1 John, 4 in 3 John, which is again (even without counting the 4 in Revelation) more than half of all the NT occurrences.

The emphasis throughout is on bearing witness to the truth of who Jesus is—viz., the Son sent from heaven by God the Father. The focus is thus Christological. There are different witnesses, but they all bear witness to the same essential truth. Jesus also serves as a self-witness, his words (and actions) giving testimony about himself. An important point in the Gospel Discourses is how Jesus’ own testimony is confirmed (as true) by these other witnesses (cf. especially 5:31-39; 8:13-19). The greatest confirmation of Jesus’ self-witness, regarding his identity (as the Son), comes from the Father Himself (5:37ff; 8:18ff; 10:25). This same confirming witness will take place through the Spirit, who comes from the Father—he will give further witness about Jesus (“about me [peri\ e)mou]”).

We must remember that the role of the Spirit is to be “alongside” believers, giving assistance to them. Thus, this witness of the Spirit relates to the teaching-function (emphasized in 14:26); but it also is tied to the role of the disciples (believers) themselves in continuing Jesus’ mission. This is clear from the continuation of the saying here in v. 27:

“…and you also give witness, (in) that you are with me from (the) beginning.”

The verb form marturei=te is in the present tense, indicating the regular/continual function of the disciples as witnesses, a role that they serve even now (in the present), before the giving of the Spirit to them. It is possible to parse the verb form as an imperative (“you must give witness”), but the indicative is to be preferred; even so, there is little difference in meaning between the two, since being a witness is an essential part of the believer’s duty.

Verse 27 is not to be limited to Jesus’ original disciples, however it does refer primarily to them. They, indeed, are the ones who were “with” Jesus from the beginning. The expression a)p’ a)rxh=$ (“from [the] beginning”) is theologically charged in the Johannine writings, but here the main focus is on the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry (just as it is in 1 John 1:1). Even so, I would contend that there is a deeper Christological allusion here—that is, to the truth of who Jesus is: the pre-existent Son, sent from heaven by God the Father. On the dual-meaning of the expression in the Johannine writings, cf. 8:25; 1 Jn 2:7, 13-14, 24.

The implication is that the Spirit and believers (esp. the disciples) work together in bearing witness about Jesus. Luke-Acts also ties the role of the disciples as witnesses to the (coming) presence of the Spirit (e.g., Lk 24:48-49; Acts 1:8); indeed, the entire early Christian mission is depicted as being empowered and guided by the Spirit (see throughout the book of Acts). A good example of a dual-witness statement, outside of the Johannine writings, is found in Acts 5:32 (cf. Brown, p. 700): “…we are witnesses of these (thing)s, (as) also (is) the holy Spirit which God gave to the (one)s (hav)ing trusted in Him”.

Just as the Father gave the Spirit to the Son (Jesus), empowering him to speak the words of God (cf. 3:27, 31ff, 34-35, etc), so also the Son gives the Spirit to believers, which enables them to speak the words of the Son (which are also the words of the Father). The aspect of prophetic inspiration is also expressed in the famous Synoptic saying in Mark 13:11 par (cp. Matt 10:20; Lk 12:2). That saying shares with the third Paraclete-saying here the context of the persecution of believers (part of the end-time period of distress).

In my view, an emphasis on the (prophetic) inspiration of believers was a fundamental component of Johannine spiritualism, to the point that it was a significant factor in the crisis described by the author of 1 John. In this regard, the second and third Paraclete-sayings are important for a proper understanding of the religious and theological background of 1 John. This will be discussed further in this series, when we come to the important passages in 1 John.

One final point to mention is the legal-judicial connotation of the witness-motif. There is no doubt that the Johannine writings (including the Gospel Discourses) make significant use of this legal-judicial background. The passages where this is expressed most clearly are 5:22-24ff, 30-40 and 8:13-29; but there are numerous other legal-judicial allusions throughout, including several references in the Last Discourse. Some commentators view the judicial aspect as primary for the Paraclete-references; however, in my view, this really only applies to the final saying(s) in 16:7-11ff. These final saying(s) will be examined in Part 4 of this article, along with a set of supplemental daily notes (on vv. 8-11).

References above marked “Brown” are to Raymond E. Brown, S.S., The Gospel According to John XIII-XXI, Anchor Bible [AB] Vol. 29A (1970).

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