May 13: John 16:10

John 16:10

Verse 10 highlights the second noun of the triad in v. 8 (cf. the prior note)—dikaiosu/nh:

“and that (one) will show the world (to be wrong)…about dikaiosu/nh…”

On the contextual meaning of the verb e)le/gxw, here translated as “show (to be wrong)”, cf. the prior note.

The Spirit will show the world to be wrong about dikaiosu/nh. This noun literally means “right-ness”, the closest approximation for which in English is “righteousness”, though in certain instances “justice” is perhaps a more appropriate translation. The noun is relatively rare in the Johannine writings; it occurs only here (vv. 8, 10) in the Gospel, and three times in 1 John.

The usage in 1 John may help to elucidate the meaning of the word in the Gospel. The context within the statements of 2:29, 3:7 and 10 is very similar:

“If you have seen that He is right(eous) [di/kaio$], (the) you know also that every (one) doing right(eous)ness [dikaiosu/nh] has come to be born out of Him.” [2:29]
“(Dear) offspring, let no one lead you astray: the (one) doing right(eous)ness is right(eous), just as that (One) is right(eous).” [3:7]
“In this is made to shine forth the offspring of God and the offspring of the {Devil}: every (one) not doing right(eous)ness is not out of God…” [3:10]

Righteousness is clearly related to the characteristic of God the Father as righteous (di/kaio$), an attribute that is also shared by the Son (Jesus), cf. 1:9; 2:1. Believers who are united with the Son (and thus also the Father) through the Spirit, likewise share this characteristic. And so, they will do what is right, following the example of Jesus (and of God the Father). In so doing, they will demonstrate that they have been ‘born’ of God.

This strong theological usage, within the Johannine idiom, informs the use of dikaiosu/nh here in the Paraclete saying (16:8): “that (one) [i.e. the Spirit] will show the world (to be wrong) about right(eous)ness [peri\ dikaiosu/nh$]”. Jesus expounds what is meant by this in verse 10:

“…and about right(eous)ness, (in) that I lead (myself) under toward the Father and not any (more) do you look at me”

On the surface, Jesus simply re-states what he has been saying throughout the Last Discourse—that he will soon be going away, back to the Father. This is most frequently expressed by the verb u(pa/gw, which literally means something like “lead (oneself) under,” i.e., going ‘undercover,’ disappearing, often used in the more general sense of “go away, go back”. It occurs quite often in the Gospel of John (32 times out of 79 NT occurrences), where it typically is used, by Jesus, to refer to his departure back to the Father. Properly construed, this ‘going away’ is part of the process of Jesus’ exaltation, of his being “lifted up” —a process that begins with his death, and ends with his return to the Father. The references to Jesus’ departure have a dual-meaning in the Last Discourse, referring to both ends of that spectrum.

The verb qewre/w, one of several key verbs in the Gospel expressing the idea of seeing, also has a double-meaning. It denotes “looking (closely) at” something (or someone), and occurs 24 times in the Gospel (out of 58 NT occurrences). Theologically it can signify seeing Jesus, in the sense of recognizing his true identity (as the Son sent by the Father), cf. 12:45, etc; yet, it also can refer to simple (physical) sight. Throughout the Last Discourse, there is conceptual wordplay between both of these meanings, and, not coincidentally, the references relate contextually to the Paraclete-sayings—14:17, 19; 16:16-17, 19. Here, qewre/w refers principally to the idea that Jesus will no longer be visible to the disciples, because he will no longer be physically present with them.

The context of the Spirit’s witness against the world here makes the similar language in 14:19 quite relevant:

“Yet a little (longer), and the world will not look at [qewrei=] me any (more); but you will look at [qewrei=te] me, (and in) that I live, you also shall live.”

Jesus seems to be alluding to his resurrection (and return to the disciples) after his death, when people will (for a time) not see him. However, the theological meaning of qewre/w is also prevalent—i.e., the “world” will not see Jesus (especially in his death) for who he truly is, the Son of God; but the disciples will recognize and trust in him.

This brings us to the statement in 16:10, which has always been something of a puzzle. Commentators have found difficulty in explaining how Jesus’ explanation relates to the Paraclete saying. How does the Spirit show the world to be wrong about righteousness specifically because (o%ti) Jesus departs to the Father (and the disciples can no longer see him)?

In the previous note (on v. 9), I mentioned how the Spirit’s role in exposing (vb e)le/gxw) the world “about sin”, refers, not only to the world’s actual sin (of unbelief), but to its understanding of the nature of sin. As I have discussed, in the Johannine writings sin refers principally to the great sin of failing/refusing to trust in Jesus, of not recognizing his identity as the Son sent from heaven by God the Father. I would argue that the nature of righteousness (dikaiosu/nh) has a similarly Christological orientation in the Johannine writings.

This would seem to be confirmed by the references in 1 John, discussed above. Jesus (the Son) is righteous (di/kaio$), just as the Father is righteous—he shares the same attribute with the Father. True righteousness, thus, is not as the world understands it—in conventional ethical and religious terms—but, rather, in terms of Jesus’ identity as the Son, who manifests and embodies the truth of the Father. Thus, the emphasis here in v. 10—as, indeed, it is throughout the Last Discourse—is on Jesus’ return to the Father. His return, to his heavenly/eternal place of origin, provides the ultimate confirmation of his identity as the Son (and Righteous One) of God.

It is also possible that there is an allusion here to a ‘false’ righteousness possessed (and valued) by the world, which corresponds precisely with their great sin (of unbelief). In this regard, it is worth noting several instances in the LXX and NT, where dikaiosu/nh is used in a negative sense, or where such is implied—Isa 64:6; Dan 9:18; Rom. 10:3; Phil. 3:6-9; one may also mention the implicit contrast between the righteousness of the “scribes and Pharisees” and that of Jesus’ faithful disciples (Matt 5:20). Cf. the article by D. A. Carson, “The Function of the Paraclete in John 16.7-11”, Journal of Biblical Literature [JBL] 98 (1979), pp. 547-66 [esp. 558-60].

It is fair to say that the Spirit will both prove the world to be wrong in its understanding of true righteousness, and will expose the false righteousness that it holds. The connection with the disciples not being able to see Jesus—meaning Jesus will no longer be present alongside them physically—may be intended, in a subtle way, to emphasize the invisible nature of true righteousness. It is hidden to the world, and to people at large, since it is manifest principally through the Spirit. Only true believers can participate in this righteousness, through spiritual union with the Son (Jesus) and the Father. The effect and evidence of righteousness may be visible to all (cp. the saying in 3:8), but its true nature is invisible, being spiritual in nature, just as God Himself is Spirit (4:23).