The Holy Spirit in John's Gospel

Holy Spirit in Paul
Holy Spirit in the Synoptics
A discussion of 'Paraclete'
The work of the Holy Spirit in John
Is the Holy Spirit really Jesus in spirit form?

There are two terms used by John for the Holy Spirit.  We'll consider them separately.

Agia Pneuma (Gk)  The Holy Spirit

This is the greek rendering of the Hebrew word Ruah which means 'spirit', 'wind' or 'breath', and is used in the OT to express the Spirit of God, eg in the creation account in Genesis.  Schnackenburg comments that "God .... reveals himself by the way his Spirit rules over creation and history."  This life-giving breath quickens Adam in Genesis 2:7, breathes life into the 'dry bones' of Ezekiel 37.  The focus and thrust of Ruah in these passages is creative.

by contrast emphasizes the role of the pre-existent Logos giving life to the world as it is created.  This distinctive emphasis is heightened as Jesus breathes over the disciples in Ch 20 to dispense the Holy Spirit to them (another distinctive touch.  It's the Father who gives the Spirit in Luke after Jesus' ascension).  Jesus, then, is firmly identified with both the creative role traditionally assigned to the Spirit, and to the 'Lord' who dispenses the Spirit, and commissions him in creative and other work.

The Ruah empowers people to enable them to : perform feats of strength ( Judges 14:6); prophesy (1 Sam 10:10); have visions (Ezek Ch 1); Anoint them for service (Isa Ch 61) .  In the NT, Holy spirit enables Jesus' disciples to exercise charisms (Acts Ch 2; Ch 10; I Corinthians Ch 12; 14)

John does not mention these charismatic/ecstatic features, for example, he includes no exorcisms.  Jesus, although anointed with the Holy Spirit (Jn 1:32-34) is not described, as in the Synoptics as being 'full of the Holy Spirit', or 'driven by the Holy Spirit.  Neither does he, as Luke/Acts does, have others inspired by or acting under the influence of the Holy Spirit.  It is only after Jesus' resurrection/ascension in Ch 20 that the disciples receive the Holy Spirit, and can begin to do the 'greater works' that Jesus has promised they will do, and to receive the 'things to come' that the Paraclete (later, dears!) will declare to them.

However, according to 3:8, the Spirit 'blows where it wills - you see what it accomplishes, but you do not see the Spirit himself.'  This may be a reference to empowerment by the Holy Spirit, but I feel that it is firmly linked in with the life-giving properties of spiritual rebirth.

In OT writings, the Spirit is neither fully nor permanently present with God's people.  See Ps 51 and Proverbs 16:2. Spirit can be withdrawn if necessary.  

However, in John, the Spirit remains with the disciples  for ever(14:6) and Jesus has God's Spirit upon him without measure or limit.  This may be a deliberate contrast on John's part.

In the OT, the Holy Spirit has a role in identifying the Messiah, inaugurating the Messianic Age. - Isa 11:22 and 61:1- Spirit rests on Messianic King:  42::1-4 the Spirit enables the Servant to proclaim justice.: and in numerous passages, the 'last days' are signalled by an outpouring of the Holy Spirit on God's people  (Joel 2:28-29; Ezek 36:26-27)

For John, by contrast, the presence of Jesus is the Messianic sign of the last days, and the spirit is for all who believe in Him.  The fact that the 'fullness of the Holy Spirit is upon Him' 3:34 demonstrates that the Messianic Age is here.

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The Holy Spirit in the Pauline Epistles

There are several similarities in the Pauline and Johannine presentation of the Holy Spirit, albeit, many of the overlaps are in the 'Paraclete' passages.  Both the 4th Evangelist and Paul describe the Holy Spirit as the Revealer of (spiritual) truth - 1 Corinthians 2 9-16; The Spirit as 'The Spirit of Jesus' - 2 Corinthians 3:17-18; The Spirit as a Helper for the believer - Philippians 1:19.

Both Paul and John contrast the 'flesh' and the 'spirit'.  'Walking in the flesh' is, for Paul the antithesis of walking in the power and will of God in Christ. (Gal 5:16-26 and 6:8 is the clearest example of this.)  However, John tends to contrast not so much the behaviour brought about by walking in the flesh or Spirit, but the nature of the birth from flesh of Spirit (Ch 3:1-8).  Birth from flesh is corruptible, leading ultimately and inevitably to physical and spiritual death, unless one is 'born again' of water and the Spirit.

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The Holy Spirit and the Synoptics

Jesus is presented as the Baptizer in the Holy Spirit 'He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit'.  Likewise, in John, Jesus is presented as the one with the power to dispense the Holy Spirit 'To him who comes to me, I will give living water' 7:38-39

.  However, in several places in the Synoptics, the Holy Spirit is presented as leading or guiding Jesus, eg, driving him into the wilderness after his baptism.   This contrasts with the Johannine approach, where, although having the 'fullness of the Spirit' 3:34, Jesus is nowhere described as dependent upon the Spirit for guidance, correction or communication with the Father.  Indeed the 'glory' of Jesus in the 4th Gospel is His direct relationship with the Father, from whom He takes instructions, whose will He does, whose words He speaks.  The Holy Spirit emanates from Jesus, rather than coming to Him.  It is only after Jesus' permanent ascension from the world that the Holy Spirit's role of guidance, teaching etc will begin.

In the synoptics, and especially Luke/Acts, the Holy Spirit is presented as the inspirer of others.  Indeed this is one of the signs that the Messianic kingdom has arrived in Luke.  Prophecy is once again alive in Israel with the announcement of the births of John the Baptist and Jesus.  This contrasts with the Johannine presentation of people's response to the Messianic kingdom, which is entirely Christocentric.  We are never permitted to lose sight of the fact that it is Jesus with whom people are confronted, either face to face, or through the pages of the gospel.  The 4th Evangelist may well have been prepared to concede that it was by the Holy Spirit that those who were called to be part of Jesus' flock were called, but this is not a point made in the gospel, rather the focus is entirely upon Jesus himself although in Ch 16 it is clear that when Jesus is no longer physically present in the world, the Spirit will take over Jesus' role of convincing the 'world' of sin, righteousness and judgement (of which more later).

The disciples are instructed by the risen Jesus to wait for the arrival of the Holy Spirit in Jerusalem.  In the meantime, there is a gap of 10 days between Jesus' ascension and Pentecost.  Contrast this with the giving of the Holy Spirit to the disciples by Jesus in the Upper Room a week after Easter.  Although the disciples have had to wait for the Spirit, it is Jesus who gives the Spirit, and it is given directly and personally to them by Jesus himself.  Once again, the portrayal of the the Holy Spirit in John's Gospel serves to focus on Jesus as the means of that gift.

We could sum up by saying that whilst there is clear evidence that Johannine teaching on the Holy Spirit covers many of the areas found in OT and other early Church writings, nevertheless there are Johannine devices which serve to focus the activity traditionally associated with the Holy Spirit, on the person of Jesus.  The question is, does this device mean that for John, the Holy Spirit is some sort of 'understudy' for Jesus?

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This is a distinctive Johannine term for the Holy Spirit, found nowhere else in the New Testament apart from 1 John, although it is important to note that the two terms, Holy Spirit and Paraclete (anglicized version) are synonymous - in 14.26, both terms are used, clearly of the same Being.  There are 5 paraclete passages, all occurring in the 'Farewell Discourses' of Chs 14-16.  Specifically they are 14:15-17; 14:26; 15.26; 16:7-11 and possibly 16:12-15.  The choice of the term Paraclete, however, is so distinctive as to warrant special study in any consideration of John's distinctive treatment of the Holy Spirit.

The gender of parakletos is masculine as opposed to the neuter of Holy Spirit.  Some have suggested that this is significant, with 'Holy Spirit' being some 'impersonal force' whose nature is revealed as the term 'Parakletos' is used  "... (parakletos) tends to remove the Spirit from the sphere of abstract, impersonal force into that of personality." Barrett p 77.  However, it's worth noting that the Holy Spirit is always referred to as 'He' even in Pneuma passages, and it's clear from verses like 14:26 that the personal characteristics of the Paraclete are also those of Pneuma.  Despite Barrett's claim that "None of the earlier references in the gospel to the Spirit show the same measure of personalization as to the last discourses.", and that " .. a simple consecutiveness of thought is not to be looked for in John's writing."  it does not appear to me (or to many other scholars) that there is any fundamental contradiction in the presentation of Paraclete and Pneuma, although there may be some development of concepts and thought.

The meaning of the work parakletos is debatable.  Literally, it means 'one called to the side of another' (W F Howard 'Christianity according to St John'), and is used also in 1 Jn 2:1, where it's meaning is Advocate.  Where I come from (Guernsey), this is the word we use for a lawyer or barrister, and we have already seen in the Eschatology and Judgement section that there is a lot of 'courtroom' terminology in John; Ladd points out that the usage of the term is not all courtroom, however.  In the King James Version (as anyone who has ever used the Church Anthem Book will know) the word is translated as (another) Comforter.  Nice, though this translation is, it is misleading, so Bultmann states that 'comforter' is not quite the role suggested by John Chs 14-16.  R Brown states that consolation is the 'context' of the role, not the substance of it.  I'm not so sure.  I think the usage of the word 'Comforter' has altered since the 16th/17th Century.   After all, the 23rd Psalm talks of 'Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me'. Now, I'm not sure when you were last 'comforted' by a rod or staff, dears, but the expression, to me, does not conjure up a very 'conventional' idea of what we would mean by 'comforting' - certainly in the social-worker sense!   I suspect that the word implies a mixture of consolation, encouragement, exhortation and downright chivying which seems to me to be very characteristic of the Paraclete in Chs 14-16.  However!

Another suggested translation of parakletos is Intercessor.  This suggestion is rejected by both Brown and Bultmann, for good reasons.  The intercessory role is played by Jesus in the 4th Gospel.  The Holy Spirit does not intercede.  Rather, he takes what is of Jesus, and passes it on.  He 'bears witness' to Jesus.

Bultmann argues for the the term Revealer - in connection with Gnostic Redeemer myths, with their saviours who 'reveal' the way to heaven - self knowledge for the Gnostic, knowledge of the Redeemer Christ, for the the 4th Evangelist.  Naturally, many scholars want to question whether there is dependence (or even response to) Gnostic myth.  There is more support for A Hunter's suggestion of Helper but even this is often considered too general (e.g. Brown).

Ladd suggests that Mediator (melits Hb) best sums up the role of the Paraclete - it also means Teacher.  The word is found in Job 33:23, the Qumran writings and the Aramaic targum of Job.  Ladd suggests that these terms best express the roles of the Paraclete in the Last Supper Discourses.  "There is therefore a background in Jewish thought for combining the roles of advocacy and instruction."  Schnackenburg, Dodd and Brown would agree that this term best sums up the "complex role of the Paraclete." although for me it does not do justice to the 'courtroom theme' of the  gospel as a whole.

So we return to Advocate.  This certainly fits the picture of the Paraclete aiding the disciples under persecution, as in the Synoptics.  It also fits the picture painted in Ch 16 of the Paraclete acting as the 'prosecution' - convicting the world of sin, righteousness and judgement, and acting as the continuing presence of Jesus, who, of course, did this in Israel during his earthly ministry.  Sanders and Mostin add to this courtroom terminology with their suggestion of Strengthener or Champion, as in the character witnesses who plead cases for the defendant.  The role of the Paraclete in helping the disciples defend themselves against false accusations seems to bear this out.  Barrett describes the courtroom scenario of John as "a lawsuit of cosmic dimension."

Rabbinic literature uses the word sunegoros (Gk)  as a synonym for parakletos .  It means 'vindicator', (See Jn 16:8-11)  This would bear out the courtroom usage, although some scholars point out that the role of the Holy Spirit is more adversarial (that is, the prosecution or accuser) - although this is only in the context of 'The World'.  It seems that John may wish to present both aspects of the Paraclete's role, to vindicate Christ is to stand as accuser of the world which condemned Him.

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The Work of the Holy Spirit in John

He is the one through whom the life available in Christ is dispensed (Ch 3).  One must be 'born anew' by water and the Holy Spirit. This is the only way to obtain eternal life.  This link between water and Spirit (Seen also in Ch 7 vs 38) is unique to the 4th Gospel, but reflects the OT concept of a yearning for God being like thirst - Ps 42 vs 1; Isa Ch 12 etc.  Water becomes an expression of the role of the Holy Spirit both to inspire and to satisfy spiritual thirst.

He is the sign of the arrival of the Messianic age (like the Synoptics).  In Ch 2, Jesus is the One 'on whom the Spirit rests'.  The promise Jesus makes of the Holy Spirit to the disciples is always, future, however, suggesting that perhaps these words, rather than being from Jesus himself, reflect the situation of the evangelist viewing the empowerment of the Church by the Holy Spirit from the post-easter  perspective.  

The Paraclete is to be the constant presence of the Father and Son with the disciples to inspire and assure them.  According to Lightfoot, he is the "invisible and permanent" replacement for the "visible and impermanent" Jesus.  The Paraclete is the One to whom Jesus is referring when he says that "We (ie He and the Father) will come and make our home with him (ie the one who believes)"

Some scholars (especially catholic ones) would want to argue that the Spirit makes the sacraments efficacious - that is, a means of appropriating God's blessings in this world.  Naturally, scholars like Carson will want to question this, from their standpoint on the Sacraments.  In a broader sense, however, the Spirit is certainly the one who enables the worshipper, who, says Jesus (Ch 4) must worship 'in spirit and in truth'.

The Paraclete distinctively for John, is 'the Spirit of Truth', for those who have 'seen' Jesus, continuing Jesus' work of revealing truth to them.  Indeed Jesus speaks of a future time when truth will be revealed in a way that the disciples cannot accept now. (16:12)  The teaching of the Paraclete is not separate from Jesus' teaching, but a continuation and deepening of it.  Indeed the Paraclete will not permit Jesus' words to be forgotten, but will recall them to the disciples.  Could this be a vindication of the teaching of the Johannine community?   Scott comments that the "whole function of the Spirit is to represent Christ and to ensure that His influence will continue in the Church."

The Paraclete will 'bear witness to Jesus' (15:26).  A courtroom scenario of opposition and persecution of those who follow Jesus is envisaged here, and the Paraclete acts as Counsel for the defense, witnessing to the authority of Jesus' teaching.  The subject of 'witness' is Jesus, and the Spirit of Truth joins other witnesses, the Father and the disciples, who all witness on Jesus' behalf. 

The Paraclete continues the eschatological theme of 'The Last Day'.  He convicts the world.  (16:7-11)  Once again, the context is of a courtroom, this time with the Paraclete as the counsel for the prosecution.  The meaning of 'convict' here is that the attitude and dismissive judgement that 'the World' passes on Jesus will be shown to be wrong.  In the 4th Gospel, we meet those who believe that Jesus is a sinner, is demonized, is not Jewish, is a blasphemer, a fake messiah, etc.  These people will be shown to be wrong.  Jesus will be vindicated.  In this sense, the Paraclete is the 'Light' by which people will be able to 'see' Jesus, even though He is no longer in the world.  

The sin of not believing in Jesus, the righteousness (being innocent) that only comes through believing in Jesus and condemnation that has been passed on the Ruler of this World, will continue to be visible to the world.  In fact, it will be visible to the whole world, and not just to the Jews, because Jesus is returning to the Father and only then will the Paraclete be sent, the universal and unlimited presence of Jesus and the Father in the World.  He will not make His home with everyone in the world - only believers will have that privilege (14:17,23).  But He will be everywhere in the world, particularly where believers are, continuing the work of Jesus in exposing sin and wickedness, and calling those who are Jesus' own.  Barrett comments that "John uses a good deal of eschatological language when speaking of the Paraclete".  For judgement of sin and vindication of the righteous are key events that will take place on 'the Last Day'.  "The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus themselves constitute an eschatological event .... The Spirit's work is to bear witness to Christ, to make operative what Christ had already effected.  The Spirit is thus the eschatological continuum in which the work of Christ initiated in his ministry and awaiting its termination at his return, is wrought out." (p76)  

Some scholars, indeed have suggested that when the Fourth Gospel speaks of the 'Last Day', it is actually referring to the coming of the Holy Spirit.  They might cite 14:18, where Jesus says 'I will not leave you desolate - I will come to you'.  Many scholars who argue that the Fourth Gospel has a traditional attitude to the Parousia, though, would point to the Parousia verses in Chs 5, 6 and 12, and 14:3 and 16:22, and would suggest that there is no justification for arguing against a 'future eschatological event.'

The Paraclete will glorify Jesus (Ch16:15)  The Greek word used has its Hebrew equivalent in 'shining forth' (ie, Shekinah)  In the OT 'Shekinah' was used of the Father.  Now Jesus too will be glorified, for He is the Light of the World and shares the nature of the Father.

So is the Holy Spirit simply Jesus in 'Spirit' form?

The Fourth Gospel is the NT document with the most advanced consideration of the relationship between Father, Son and Holy Spirit, which was later to be defined by the Church as the doctrine of the Holy Trinity.  The presence of three persons of the Trinity is hinted at in the Synoptics, notable at the time of Jesus' Baptism, where the Son is Baptised, the Father speaks His approval of the Son, and the Holy Spirit descends upon Jesus in the form of a Dove.

Certainly, there is more evidence in the Synoptics for an independently operating Spirit - the Spirit guides and leads Jesus, He inspires people to prophesy, He is responsible for the conception of Jesus by the Virgin Mary.  By contrast, None of this is found in the 4th Gospel.  All of the word of the Spirit or Paraclete is spoken of as in the future.  Indeed, Jesus says that it is to the disciples' advantage 'that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.'  The only 'present' function of the Holy Spirit indeed is to rest in fullness on Jesus.

Jesus seems to replace the Holy Spirit in key places within the Gospel, eg in the prologue, when the Word becomes the prime agent in creation as opposed to the Spirit of God, who broods over the face of the deep' (don't you just love the KJV of Genesis 1) in Genesis 1.

Moreover, much of the work of the Holy Spirit and the Paraclete (do remember, dears, that the terms are interchangeable) is either focussed upon Jesus (bearing witness to Him, recalling his words to the disciples, etc) or continuing His work - convicting the world, teaching the disciples what they won't be able to 'take' now, etc.  He certainly seems to work alongside Jesus during His ministry.  The Holy Spirit comes upon Him and He knows the 'fullness of the Spirit.'  He bestows the Spirit by breathing upon them, as God breathed life into Adam.  The ministry of the Spirit in the lifegiving mission of Jesus is therefore inextricable.  Jesus is proclaimed by John as 'the one who baptises in the Holy Spirit.

The Spirit is bestowed by the Father, and the Son.  We can see an interesting progression of the source of the Spirit - from the Father at the instigation of the Son (14:16), The Father sends the Spirit in the Son's Name (14:26), The Son sends the Spirit (15:26). The Spirit, then is sent from the Father and Son, and shares the same purpose and nature - Truth, Witness, Judgement, empowerment, life-giving.  R Brown suggests a 'linking' or 'tandem' relationship between Jesus and the Spirit, not unlike some found in the OT.  He cites the relationship of Moses and Joshua, Elijah and Elisha, where the work of the first is continued and built upon by the second.  The mantle passes from the older to the younger (of course this expression itself is taken directly from the story of Elijah and Elisha).  The implication is that the follower is of the same 'spirit' as the leader, but yet there is a subordination, certainly in the sense that the work has been initiated by the first.  If Brown is right, then this is a distinctive Johannine feature, for what appears to be happening is that whereas in the Synoptics, the Son appears to be obeying the Father in the power of the Holy Spirit, in John, the priority of the relationship between the Father and the Son is one of the key themes of the gospel, and it is their relationship that defines the work of the Holy Spirit, which is witnessing to the relationship, and carrying on the work of bestowing the life which the Son has made available through His obedience to death on the cross.

However, it is clear that the Spirit is not just personal, but a person.  He teaches, advises, convicts the world, can only come to believers when Jesus has returned to heaven.  He remains with believers, he witnesses to Jesus and glorifies Him.  He proceeds from the Father, but is not the Only-Begotten.  He is not merely an extension of Jesus, although He does not work independently from Him.  Indeed, He cannot, for, like Jesus, He has been sent from heaven on the same mission - to bestow life, to witness to the truth and to testify to the relationship between the Father and the Son which constitutes Salvation in the Fourth Gospel.  He is another Counsellor, not the same one in a different form.

Is He then, 'inferior' to the Son and the Father?  Jesus Himself says that 'the Father is greater than I', and whilst the Paraclete is 'the Spirit of Truth', Jesus is the Truth.  However, is this a difference in being or in function. The two are not the same.  All human beings share the same nature, but not are equal in function.  Christian orthodoxy, of course, insists that the three persons of the Holy Trinity are co-equal and co-eternal.  We've already seen how intertwined the work of the Spirit and the Son is.  This serves to focus attention upon the Son, which is, after all the purpose af a Christian Gospel. Perhaps John's intention was to associate the person of Jesus so finally with that of 'I AM' of the Old Testament, and his Spirit, that an impression of subordination was the result.

Maybe the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are ways of describing the salvation history of the world in chronological terms - the Father sends the Son, the Father and Son send the Holy Spirit.  Some scholars don't accept that there is Trinitarian discussion at all in the 4th Gospel.  But most would agree with Barrett when he says that the 4th Evangelist "more than any other New Testament writer, lays the foundations for a doctrine of a co-equal Trinity."

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