May 10: John 16:8

John 16:8-11

This set of daily notes, on John 16:8-11, is supplemental to the current articles on the Paraclete-sayings in the Johannine Last Discourse, part of the series “Spiritualism and the New Testament,” focusing on the Johannine writings. Verses 8-11 are part of the final Paraclete-saying (vv. 7b-15), which comprises the first section of the third (and final) discourse division (16:4b-28) of the Last Discourse.

The para/klhto$ (parákl¢tos), literally “(one) called alongside,” is referred to by the title “Spirit of truth,” as also in the first (14:17) and third (15:26) sayings. As I have discussed, in the Johannine theological context, “truth” (a)lh/qeia) refers principally, and most specifically, to the truth about who Jesus is. This Christological emphasis came out clearly in the third saying (cf. the discussion in Part 3), where the role of the Spirit is as a witness (vb marture/w) about (peri/) Jesus (“about me [peri\ e)mou]”). This witness-motif, with the emphasis on the Spirit as a witness, is further expounded here in the final saying, where the key statement regarding the Spirit’s role is given in verse 8.

John 16:8

“…and, (hav)ing come, that (one) will show the world [ko/smo$] (to be wrong), about a(marti/a, and about dikaiosu/nh, and about kri/si$.”

The Spirit’s witness here is described by the verb e)le/gxw, which has a relatively wide semantic range and can be difficult to translate with precision. The original denotation of this verb is something like “bring into contempt, expose to shame”. In the LXX and the New Testament, however, two specific contextual aspects of meaning are emphasized: (1) the judicial aspect of proving someone to be wrong (or guilty), in the sense of convicting and judging/condemning, etc; and (2) the disciplinary aspect of rebuking or chastising a person for their wrongdoing, or ‘convicting’ someone of sin, etc, with the hopes of bringing the person to repentance.

All of these aspects relate generally to the idea of exposing a person, and/or showing them to be in the wrong. In translating e)le/gxw here in verse 8, I have kept to this general meaning, which, I believe, also best captures the sense of the verb as it is used in context. This would seem to be confirmed by the other occurrences of e)le/gxw in the Johannine writings (here in the Gospel, 3:20; 8:46).

Thus, the Spirit will expose the world, and show it to be in the wrong. Jesus’ words in 3:20 are instructive in this regard:

“For every (one) doing base (thing)s hates the light, and does not come toward the light, (so) that his works should not be shown (to be evil) [e)legxqh=|].”

Jesus’ use of the light-motif clearly indicates that the idea of exposing evil (i.e., of it being exposed by the light) is in mind with the use of e)le/gxw. Since the “light”, in this case, is the truth about who Jesus is—viz., the pre-existent Son (and Light) sent into the world by the Father (v. 19; cf. also 1:4-9; 8:12; 9:5; 11:9-10; 12:35-36, 46)—the usage of e)le/gxw in 3:20 is contextually very close to that of 16:8. In both discourse-passages, the world is exposed and shown to be wrong by the truth of who Jesus is.

The other occurrence of e)le/gxw is found in 8:46, in a statement by Jesus that is part of a long and complex discourse-sequence, spanning chapters 7-8. It comes toward the conclusion of that sequence. In 8:12-20, a number of the earlier themes expressed in 3:16-21 (cf. above) are reprised, including a number of points of emphasis that are specifically relevant to the Paraclete sayings:

    • Jesus as the light, which reveals the truth and exposes the evil in the darkness
    • God the Father as a witness to Jesus’ identity (as the Son)
    • The judgment that comes about for those who reject this witness

Then, in vv. 21-30, we find several key themes and motifs which take on prominence in the Last Discourse:

    • The idea of Jesus going away (i.e., his impending departure)
    • The witness of who Jesus is “from the beginning” (v. 25)
    • The theme of the Father sending Jesus to declare the truth
    • The idea that Jesus still has much to say, to his followers and to the world (v. 26)

In verses 31-38  that follow, we find the key theme of disciples abiding (vb me/nw) in Jesus’ word, and in the truth; this is a theme that features prominently in the Last Discourse. This abiding results in freedom from sin (vv. 34-35).

Finally, verses 39-47 allude to the idea, so important in the Last Discourse (and the chapter 17 Prayer-discourse), that believers belong (as children) to God the Father. The world, by contrast, does not belong to God, but has the Devil as its father. It is the truth of the witness (regarding who Jesus is) that reveals this identity for the world, and for believers. In v. 45, Jesus states that the world—represented by his hostile public audience in the discourse—does not trust in him specifically because he speaks the truth. He follows this with a rhetorical challenge in verse 46:

“Which one of you shows [e)le/gxei] me (to be wrong) about [i.e. regarding] sin? If I relate the truth (to you), for what (reason) do you not trust in me?”

The use of the verb e)le/gxei with the indirect object peri\ a(marti/a$ (“about sin”) is precisely parallel with the usage in 16:8-9.

Before proceeding to discuss verse 9, it is first necessary to address two further points of interpretation in verse 8:

    1. The use of the word ko/smo$ (“world”), specifically in regard to the special Johannine theological usage of the term, and
    2. The parallelism between the prepositional triad (“about sin…”) and the earlier “about me” (i.e., about Jesus, the Son) in the third Paraclete-saying.

These will be addressed in the next daily note.

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