John 15:26-27 – The Holy Spirit as Comforter

The Holy Spirit as Comforter is a major topic of John 14-16. In 14:16 and 16:7 the Holy Spirit is described as παράκλητος, paracletos, a noun which is translated Comforter (KJV, NIV 1984), Helper (ESV, NASB), Advocate (NIV 2011), Counselor (HCSB), or sometimes it is left untranslated, Paraclete. A real problem for understanding the word is that the English words have a different connotation than the Greek. (D. A. Carson quips that the translation “comforter” sounds more like a quilt, although “counselor” is good, as long as one does not think of a marriage counselor or camp counselor!)

In pre-Christian Greek, the noun can have the sense of a advocate or mediator in a general way. Someone who is called upon to give assistance in a time of need could be described as a paraclete. This word rarely means “lawyer” in the modern sense of the world.  The word was often translated into Latin by the word patronus, a patron who comes to the aid of a client. The patronus was a sponsor or advocate of the client, and could in some respects shield the client from legal trouble, or provide representation for a client in a court case.  (This is a fascinating possibility, given the discussion here on the status of friendship in the ancient word.)

This may be the sense of the word in 16:7, since the Spirit is described as convicting the world of sin and guilt. But the Spirit is not an advocate for the defense of the disciples, but rather a prosecutor of the world. The legal metaphor is found in 1 John 2:1, where Jesus himself is called our advocate before the Father.

Perhaps the background for this word should be the Hebrew Bible rather than Greek usage. The form of the word which appears in John does not appear in the LXX, but the related form παράκλησις does 16x. Most often the word has the sense of consoling a person who is grieving, the exception is Isa 28:29, God is “wonderful in his counsel” (advice, plans, etc).

In Isaiah 57:18 and Hos 11:8, the Hebrew word is נְחֻמִים, a noun built on the root נחם, one of the most theological important words in the Hebrew Bible. The verb appears at the beginning of the second part of Isaiah, the “voice crying in the wilderness” announces “comfort” for God’s people at the end fo the exile. God is beginning to make a straight and level path from Babylon back to Zion so that his people may return in a new Exodus.

The role of the Spirit in Isaiah 40-55 is to announce the coming of the new age when Israel’s long exile is finally over. The ending of that period of estrangement between God and his people Israel is an occasion for compassion – God has compassion on his people and he draws them back to himself.

If this background from the Hebrew Bible is what Jesus had in mind when he described the Holy Spirit as the “comforter” who is coming, then he is alluding to the common tradition of the Hebrew Bible that the coming eschatological age will be a time when the Holy Spirit is poured out on God’s people.

5 thoughts on “John 15:26-27 – The Holy Spirit as Comforter

  1. I often find that the Holy Spirit is a part of the trinity that, for some reason, is often talked about in worship music but rarely in sermons or Bible studies and maybe that’s just the vibe Christians get from the term “spirit” but, regardless, the Holy Spirit deserves way more than we give them credit for. The Holy Spirit literally resides within us but for some reason, we have made the Spirit out to be less powerful, less personable, and significantly more mysterious (to a fault) than the Father or the Son. Walking in step with the Spirit (Galatians 5:25) is absolutely essential for our growth, wellbeing, and wisdom in our spiritual lives. And is also essential when it comes to our relationship with the Father because the Spirit is able to intercede for us! Throughout my journey as a leader and a writer of music and other papers and stuff about the Bible and theology, I have tried, especially more recently, to be intentional with talking about the Spirit as a solidified part of the trinity as opposed to just a feeling or aura, which I think is often the vibe around the subject.

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  2. When I first became a Christian, I would have described the Holy Spirit as a “strange warmness” that communicates to me the love of God. While this is a very precious and honorable interpretation, it does not quite fit the profile that the Bible provides. John calls the Holy Spirit the great “comforter”, and to my inexperienced mind years ago, this actually sounded very close to what I was experiencing. But I don’t believe a “strange warmness”–in other words, a feeling of love and intimacy–is quite what John had in mind. To more accurately interpret this phrase, it is indeed best to turn to the Hebrew Scriptures. In Isiah 40-55, the word comfort is used in a peculiar sense to describe the exile of Israel. Is the Holy Spirit, then, a sign of the eschatological age, ushering in the second exile of Israel? I believe so, and Kostenberger seems to agree. He states that the word “advocacy” is insufficient to describe the Holy Spirit because it is not a presence that merely helps on in court. It is the very person of God, fulfilling His mission which was predicted centuries before in the Hebrew Scriptures.

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  3. The Spirit does bring us comfort. It brings us peace. It brings us guidance. But in the Gospel of John, he takes on a different aspect of the Spirit and that us that the Spirit is truth. Kostenberger explains that, “he accurately represents the truth regarding Jesus; he is the eschatological gift of God; he imparts true knowledge of God; and he works both in worship and sanctification,” (Kostenberger, 146). The Spirit does more than comfort and through reading John’s Gospel, Kostenberger is reflecting on that. God placed the Spirit in us when Jesus died on the cross. There is definitely a correlation between that, but he does more than live in us. He is our truth and as John says, “but when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth,” (John 16:13. NIV). The Spirit guides us, gives us the comfort we need in our souls, the spirit is a gift from God, so we should use it daily. Use the Spirit, its truth, to guide our lives because the Spirit works in us and in our sanctification. The Spirit also reveals different aspects about God and gives us knowledge of Him that God allows to be imparted in our minds.

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  4. looking at what the word comforter means seems like it is the best way to start a conversation on the topic. if we want to understand John’s usage of it in his gospel we need more than a modern understanding of the word so that we can get a better grasp on it. I think it is smart to not only look at the greek but also the Hebrew as John would have understood both and potentially been using both the greek and Hebrew usages of the word in order to make a point.

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