(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.; the third [15:26-27] in part 3.)
Saying 4-5: John 16:7-15
The final Paraclete-saying(s) are found in the third (and final) discourse-division of the Last Discourse; on which, cf. again my outline:
- 3:31-38—Introduction to the Discourse (cf. above)
- 14:1-31—Discourse/division 1—Jesus’ departure
- 15:1-16:4a—Discourse/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-28—Discourse/division 3—Jesus’ departure (farewell)
- 16:29-33—Conclusion to the Discourse
The theme of the third discourse, as I define it, is the departure of Jesus and his farewell to his disciples. In many ways, this has been the theme of the Last Discourse as a whole, but is especially emphasized here. In the central section of the discourse (vv. 16-24), Jesus discusses his departure and return. The context of the preceding vv.4b-15, which contain the Paraclete-saying(s), makes clear that he is referring to his ultimate departure (back to the Father) and subsequent (eschatological) return. During this period, he will be present with the disciples (and all other believers) through the Spirit.
Some commentators would demarcate two distinct sayings in vv. 7-15 (in which case, these would be sayings # 4 and 5); however, in my view, it is better to treat vv. 7-15 here as a single unit—treating it as a more complex and expansive single Paraclete-saying. Even so, structurally, we may divine this section of the discourse into three parts:
The Paraclete-saying covers the final two parts, anchored by the central reference (vv. 7b-11) to the coming of the Spirit (Paraclete). These verses have proven to be the most difficult to interpret of all the Paraclete-sayings, and among the most difficult portions of the Last Discourse as a whole. For this reason, I discuss vv. 7b-11 in detail through a set of supplemental (exegetical) daily notes.
As noted above, the Paraclete-saying must be understood in the immediate context of Jesus’ impending departure (back to the Father), vv. 4b-6. Because Jesus will no longer be physically present with the disciples, his continued presence must be spiritual—realized through the Spirit. In this regard, Jesus declares in v. 7 that it is actually beneficial for the disciples that he leaves them (physically):
“But I relate to you the truth: it bears together (well) for you that I should go away; for, if I should not go away, (then) the (one) called alongside [para/klhto$] will not come toward you…”
The verb sumfe/rw literally means “bear together”; in English idiom, we might say, things “come together” for a person’s advantage, suggesting a convergence of beneficial circumstances. Jesus will be able to minister to believers, in perpetuity, through the Spirit, in ways that he simply could not do within the limited scope of his earthly ministry. And, indeed, his departure (back to the Father) is required for the coming of the Spirit:
“…but if I (do) travel (off), I will send him toward you.”
The Spirit comes from God the Father, and Jesus (the Son) must request and receive the Spirit from the Father so as to be able to send it along to the disciples (and other believers). Verse 7 here continues the progression of the prior sayings in this regard (note the shift of focus from the Father to the Son):
Elsewhere in the Gospel, it is clearly indicated (or alluded to) that Jesus gives the Spirit to believers (1:33; 7:37-39, cp. 4:10-15; 6:51, 63; 19:30, ; 20:22), even though the Father is the ultimate source of the Spirit (cf. 3:34-35; 4:24; 6:32; 17:8ff).
As in the first and third Paraclete-sayings, the “one called alongside” (para/klhto$) is referred to by the title “the Spirit of truth”. In discussing the third saying (cf. Part 3), I mentioned that here “truth” (a)lh/qeia) refers principally, and most specifically, to the truth about who Jesus is. This Christological emphasis continues here in the final saying. However, the emphasis is expressed in a curious way, especially in comparison to the rather straightforward reference in 15:26 to the Spirit as a witness about (peri/) Jesus (“about me [peri\ e)mou]”). Here is how the matter is stated in v. 8:
“and, (hav)ing come, that (one) will show the world (to be wrong), about a(marti/a, and about dikaiosu/nh, and about kri/si$.”
I have discussed this verse in a recent note, which I would recommend reading before continuing with this article.
The verb e)le/gxw has the basic meaning of “expose, show (to be wrong)”. The Spirit will show the world (o ( ko/smo$)—that is, the current world-order, dominated by sin and darkness—to be wrong about (peri/) three things in particular:
As the parallel with 15:26 suggests, the Spirit’s witness “about” (peri/) these things is fundamentally Christological—that is, it relates to, and is defined by, the witness about Jesus (“about me”). This is expounded in vv. 9-11, where the Spirit’s role in relation to each of the three terms of the triad in v. 8 is explained. I have discussed these verses in detail in the supplemental notes (cf. the links above), so I will be giving only a summary of that analysis here.
- a(marti/a (“sin”)—Sin is defined, not as the world understands it, in a conventional ethical-religious sense, but principally in terms of trust (pi/sti$) in Jesus. From the Johannine theological standpoint, the great (and unforgivable) sin, of which the “world” is guilty, is an unwillingness to trust in Jesus as the Son of God.
- dikaiosu/nh (“right[eous]ness”)—Again, true righteousness is not as the world understands or realizes it, but defined entirely by the righteousness of God (the Father) Himself, which is shared by, and manifest in, the person of the Son (Jesus). This righteousness follows the Son, in his exaltation and return to the Father, being otherwise invisible and hidden to the world. Only through the Spirit is this righteousness (of Father and Son) manifest, to believers.
- kri/si$ (“judgment”)—The world also fails to understand the true nature of God’s judgment, in two main respects: (1) it is not limited to a future time, but is realized in the present; and (2) one experiences judgment based on whether one trusts and accepts the witness of who Jesus is. Those who trust in Jesus have already passed through the Judgment, while those who do not trust have, in a sense, already been judged (and condemned). Jesus may seem himself to have been judged by the world, under its authority, through his suffering and death; however, in reality, it is the world and its “Chief” (the Devil) that have been judged.
This witness by the Spirit, though it shows the world to be wrong, is directed primarily to the disciples (and other believers). This is clear from what follows in verses 12-15 (cf. the recent note). The theme of the Spirit’s teaching role is brought back into focus, from the earlier saying in 14:25-26 (cf. Part 2). The Spirit will continue Jesus’ role as teacher, continuing to teach believers (v. 12). The title “Spirit of truth [a)lh/qeia]” is particularly significant here, as Jesus declares that the Spirit with lead believers on the way [vb o(dhge/w] “in all the truth” (e)n th=| a)lhqei/a| pa/sh|). This association between the Spirit and truth reflects an important Johannine theme; indeed, the author of 1 John goes so far as to declare that “the Spirit is the truth” (5:6).
On the one hand, the Spirit becomes an additional link in the chain of relation: Father-Son-Believers. The Father gives to the Son, and the Son, in turn, gives to believers. He gives the Spirit to believers, and then, through the Spirit, he continues to give to believers. Thus, he gives the Spirit the words to speak, and the Spirit speaks, in Jesus’ name and on his behalf, to believers. This continues an important Johannine theme regarding the Son speaking the words of the Father (cf. the references in the supplemental note on vv. 12-15). The Son speaks only the words which he hears, and is given, by the Father. Jesus responds as a dutiful son, following his father’s example—he says (and does) what he hears (and sees) the Father saying (and doing).
At the same time, the Son (Jesus) is personally present with (and within) believers through the Spirit. It is truly he who speaks in and among believers. In this way, Jesus is able to continue teaching believers, as he still has “many (thing)s” to speak. Some commentators would limit this dynamic, applying it only to the original disciples. However, in my view, such a restriction distorts the message of the Last Discourse as a whole, and would contradict the thrust of the Johannine theology. In 1 John 2:20, 27, for example, which will be discussed in the next article of this series, it is rather clearly expressed that the Spirit continues to teach believers. This is an important aspect of Johannine spiritualism, and it will be explored further, and in considerable detail, in the studies on 1 John.
In verses 14-15, the Paraclete-sayings reach their theological (and Christological) conclusion, restating several fundamental Johannine themes. First, there is the contextual theme (in v. 14) relating to the exaltation of Jesus, utilizing the key-verb doca/zw (“show/give honor”). The “lifting up” and honoring of Jesus begins with his Passion (12:23, 28; 13:31-32; 17:1) and concludes with his receiving of the Spirit to give/send to believers. This entire process of exaltation, as expressed in the Johannine Gospel narrative, is characterized by the verb doca/zw (cf. 7:39; 12:16).
Second, the exaltation of Jesus is part of a more fundamental (and essential) dynamic relationship between Father and Son (on the use of doca/zw in this context, cf. 8:54; 14:13; 15:8; 17:1, 4-5). As noted above, the Spirit now becomes part of the fundamental chain of relation: the Father gives to the Son, who then gives to the Spirit, and the Spirit, in turn, now gives to believers.
Finally, the climactic verse 15 summarizes the core Johannine theological-Christological message (cf. especially 13:34-35; 17:7ff). As the Son sent to earth by God the Father, Jesus receives “all things” from the Father, so that he is able to give them, in turn, to believers. The Spirit is the foremost of what the Father gives to the Son, and which also the Son gives to believers. Through the Spirit, the Son will continue to give to believers. The focus is principally on Jesus’ words, his teaching, that he gives to believers; however, the theological formulation of the statement in v. 15 is more comprehensive than that. The Spirit receives from that which belongs to the Son—from the “all things” that the Father gives to the Son.
As a last point, the thematic emphasis of the great Prayer-Discourse of chapter 17 is also foreshadowed here, with an allusion to the unity between Father and Son: “all (thing)s, as (many) as the Father holds, are mine…”. In the Father’s giving to the Son, the Son shares in what belongs to the Father. Similarly, there is an allusion to believers’ unity with the Son (and the Father), since, through the Spirit, we (as believers) come to share in the things that belong to the Son. We must, however, emphasize again here that the communication of this to us takes place through the idiom of speaking and witnessing. The Spirit receives from what belongs to the Son and gives it forth as a message (vb a)nagge/llw) to us. The verbal aspect of this spiritual witness remains prominent throughout the Johannine writings, and is central to the Johannine spiritualism.
In the next article of this series, we shall begin to examine how the Johannine beliefs regarding the Spirit, as expressed in the Gospel, were realized in the wider Community. For this, we turn to the Johannine Letters, especially the work known as 1 John.