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.
8 thoughts on “John 15:26-27 – The Holy Spirit as Comforter”
The Holy Spirit is a Christian’s patronus. The Harry Potter themed youth group lesson practically writes itself.
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.
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.
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.
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.
As Jesus shares with the disciples that they will receive a “helper” it has me wondering what it is like to live as a Christian without the Holy Spirit. They had Jesus but before Jesus they had a different kind of relationship with God. They needed priests advocating for them in their behalf but then they went to having Jesus to the being given the Holy Spirit. Verses 26-27 also reassures us that the Holy Spirit is from God. Since the Holy Spirit is from and is God is easier to understand the label of Counselor. As mentioned above the Holy Spirit is not like a camp counselor but is God who is loving, gracious, a comforter, and many more The Holy Spirit is a piece of God we are given here on Earth that helps us discern and understand our Lord in a greater way. Without it being a Christian would be remarkably different.
Throughout reading this article, the word “Shepherd” kept coming to mind. Knowing that the Holy Spirit was sent to comfort, I also think of it as our Shepherd, a guide for it’s people. As Long mentions above, the Greek noun paraclete was “Someone who is called upon to give assistance in a time of need”. A shepherd is not only called upon when needed (when sheep need guiding/discipline) but is also constantly watching over and assisting. Psalm 23:1 states “The Lord is my Shepherd, I lack nothing”. Jesus, as he told his disciples about the Holy Spirit coming to them in his place, is reassuring them that they will not be alone. Even through Jesus’ suffering, the Father was with him. Even through the disciple’s suffering, Jesus assured them that his Spirit would be with them. “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4). Not only is this a reoccurring promise that God will be with us, but he is also there to comfort us. I see why people may associate comforting with a quilt/fuzzy sweater, but I agree with Long as it actually represents advocate, defender, and peacemaker – a reminder that we will never be alone.
The Holy Spirit is always an interesting subject, especially to all the denominations in modern times. It is also even more interesting how there is a major topic of how the Holy Spirit is described. Even though in diverse English transcriptions the descriptions may not be as suited to describe the Holy Spirit. For NIV, “The Counselor” may have too much of a contemporary view of counseling that is focused mainly on emotional or psychological features (Köstenberger, p157). As for NASB, ISV, “The Helper” is more impartial but is deficient in legal implication that could be present; there is that reality that some translations give a decent amount of surrogate contributions in footnotes that also may suggest that any of the English contributions may be deficient (Köstenberger, p157).
Overall this does not stop what the Holy Spirit does. As it is described that one of the capacities of the Spirit of God is authorizing the believer to detect true teaching from false (Long, 133). Personally I have experienced the Holy Spirit whenever I feel depressed or anxious which at some point I do get an overwhelming blanket of peace from it. There is as well as discerning what may be evil, but that is another story.