In this continuing study on sin in the Johannine writings (Gospel and Letters of John), we turn now to the Paraclete saying in 16:7-15. This is the fourth (and final) such saying in the Last Discourse, the prior three coming in 14:16-17, 25-26, and 15:26-27. I have recently discussed these in some detail in a set of notes and articles, part of the series “Spiritualism and the New Testament”. The term “Paraclete” is an anglicized transliteration of the descriptive title parákl¢tos (para/klhto$), which means “(one) called alongside” —that is, to give help or assistance. It is a title of the Spirit, which Jesus promises will come to the disciples, after he has been exalted and has returned to the Father in heaven.
In 1 John 2:1, the only other occurrence of parákl¢tos in the New Testament, it is Jesus himself who is referred to as “(one) called alongside”, to give help to believers, specifically through the act of interceding before God the Father on believers’ behalf (in matters related to sin). In 14:16, the first Paraclete-saying in the Gospel, the Spirit is referred to as “another parákl¢tos“, implying that Jesus was the first. Indeed, in many ways, the Spirit-Paraclete continues the work of Jesus in and among his disciples (believers). Jesus continues to be present, speaking to believers through the Spirit, teaching them. For more on this, see the articles on the Paraclete-sayings (1, 2, 3, 4).
The final Paraclete-saying (16:7-15) occurs in the last of the three Discourse-divisions (16:4b-28), which has the following general outline:
The promise of the coming of the Spirit (vv. 4b-15) is thus tied to the departure of Jesus (back to the Father in heaven). He speaks as he does to his disciples because he soon will no longer be with them, at least in a physical sense. And he still has many things he must yet say to his disciples (and all believers), v. 12. For this reason, it is necessary for the Spirit to come, to be present with (“alongside”) believers, and to remain in/among them:
“But I say the truth to you: it bears together (well) for you that I should go away from (you). For, if I should not go away, (then) the (one) called alongside [parákl¢tos] will not come to you; but, if I do travel (away), I will send him to you.” (v. 7)
It is actually beneficial to the disciples (and to future believers) that Jesus should go away (back to the Father). Though he will no longer be present with them physically, as a human being, he can still be present spiritually, through the Spirit. In each of the Paraclete-sayings, Jesus explains certain aspects of the Spirit’s role. He continues that teaching here in verses 8ff:
“And, (hav)ing come, that (one) will show the world (to be wrong), about sin, and about righteousness, and about judgment” (v. 8)
In the previous Paraclete-saying (15:26-27), the emphasis was on the Spirit as a witness—specifically, a witness to the truth of who Jesus is (v. 26). The Spirit will give witness of this to the disciples, but also to the world, through the disciples. The essence of this witness is further explained here, utilizing the verb eléngchœ. The basic meaning of this verb is to show someone to be wrong. It occurs two other places in the Gospel—in 3:20 and 8:46. The first occurrence is close in context to the use here: it refers to a person’s evil deeds being shown to be evil, exposed as such by the light of Jesus Christ—and by the Gospel witness to the truth of his identity as the Son of God. The reference in 8:46, where the verb is used, as it is here, specifically in connection with sin, was discussed in an earlier study.
The Spirit will show the world to be wrong about three things, in particular: sin (hamartía), righteousness (dikaiosýn¢), and judgment (krísis). In the verses that follow (vv. 9-11), Jesus explains the basis upon which the Spirit shows the world to be wrong about each topic. The first topic he addresses is sin; his explanation is short and to the point:
“about sin, (in) that they do not trust in me” (v. 9)
In the prior studies, we have seen how the Johannine understanding of sin entails two distinct levels, or aspects, of meaning. First, there is sin as understood in the general or conventional ethical-religious sense, as wrongs/misdeeds that a person commits. And, second, there is sin in the theological sense, defined as the great sin of unbelief—that is, of failing or refusing to trust in Jesus as the Son of God. Here, the truth regarding sin is clearly defined in terms of the latter (“they do not trust in me”).
Many commentators take the verb eléngchœ here to mean that the Spirit convicts the world of sin, of showing the people of the world to be sinful. While this aspect of meaning is not entirely absent, I do not consider it to be primary here. To be sure, the world (kósmos), dominated as it is by darkness and evil, and being opposed to God, is characteristically sinful. However, what the Spirit does, specifically, is to show the world to be wrong about sin. The world’s view and understanding of sin—that is, the nature and reality of sin—is fundamentally wrong. People may accept the conventional meaning of sin, and even seek to live in a righteous manner, avoiding sin, without realizing the true nature of sin. Even the seemingly righteous people—such as religious Jews in Jesus’ own time, who followed the precepts of the Torah—were sinful, if they refused to trust in Jesus. Indeed, such people commit sin in its truest sense, since they commit the great sin of unbelief.
The explanation regarding the true nature of the judgment (krísis) alludes to this same theological-Christological understanding of sin. According to the conventional view, the judgment occurs at the end of the Age, at some point in the future, when all people will be judged for their deeds (i.e., sin in the conventional ethical-religious sense). However, according to Jesus, and the theology of the Gospel, the world (and its ruler) has already been judged:
“about judgment, (in) that the chief [i.e. ruler] of this world has been judged” (v. 11)
This judgment is based entirely on whether or not a person, when confronted with the Gospel witness, the truth about Jesus, trusts in him. The one who trusts in Jesus, has already passed through the judgment and holds eternal life, while the one who does not trust, has already been condemned. For the key references elsewhere in the Gospel, see 3:19-21; 5:22-24 (v. 24); 8:51; 12:31, 46-50. The subject was also discussed in the previous studies on 8:21ff and 9:39-41 / 15:22-24.
The judgment is realized through the exaltation of Jesus the Son of God. In the Johannine Gospel, the exaltation of Jesus is not limited to his resurrection or ascension; rather, it covers a process that begins with his Passion (suffering and death). This is particularly clear from the setting of the declaration in 12:31. The Son’s mission on earth, and the witness to his identity as the Son, reaches its climax with his death on the cross (19:30). Through his death, resurrection, and return to the Father, the Son is “lifted up”, and Jesus’ identity as the Son of God is manifest to anyone who would believe. This helps us to understand the second of the topics about which the Spirit will show the world to be wrong. In verse 10, Jesus explains the true nature of righteousness (dikaiosýn¢), as being defined in terms of the Son’s return to the Father. In other words, true righteousness is rooted in Jesus’ exaltation and his eternal identity as the Son. Believers experience righteousness only in relation to the Son.
Next week, we will turn our attention to the final two sin-references in the Gospel.