What does “Paraclete” (παράκλητος) mean? In an in-depth look at “the Paraclete” in his commentary on John, Edward Klink says that the term for the Paraclete occurs only five times in the NT, and all five of those occurrences are within John’s writings (14.16, 26; 15.26; 16.7; 1 John 2.1), and the search for an equivalent Hebrew term is a lost cause.1 Klink notes the various ways Paraclete is translated in different translations: “Comforter” (KJV), “Advocate” (NRSV; NEB; JB; NIV), “Counselor” (HCS), and “Helper” (NASB; ESV).
The traditional scholarly opinion has been to see παράκλητος as having a legal or forensic meaning—thus, the term “advocate.” Yet scholars admit that John adds to this meaning by giving the word the connotations of “teacher” and “helper.” To define παράκλητος as “advocate” forces the word into one narrow definition from what John actually means. Some scholars have pushed back against the legal language saying that the term is “better interpreted . . . [for] a prophetic role or office.”2 While the term “‘could appear in legal contexts’ . . . when it did it was used ‘as a supporter or sponsor.’”3 Inevitably translators will have to choose one word as the primary meaning.
Klink, on the other hand, doesn’t translate παράκλητος, but transliterates it as the Paraclete “to avoid limiting or muting aspects of the identity and multifaceted function of the Paraclete that are core to its (his) identity.”4 Instead of looking to a historical or religious background to understand the Paraclete, Klink prefers to look to the foreground. John, and thus, Jesus, is teaching us about the Holy Spirit (John 14.26). He is developing a doctrine for his readers.
“The figure and function of the Holy Spirit cannot be defined by the history of religions, for it requires not only sensitivity to the Gospel’s own multifaceted portrayal but also the foregrounding depiction from the rest of the biblical canon — the primary source for offering a conceptual interpretation of the Spirit’s person and work.”5
In this in-depth section Klink gives three aspects of the Paraclete for his reader to understand ahead of time.
- The Paraclete is still to come.
John 14.26: But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.
The Holy Spirit comes (proceeds) from both the Father and the Son and will do so soon at a future time. But the Spirit has surely been at work prior to the future point of his coming (cf. 1 Cor 12.3).
“It is significant that the Paraclete can only come when Jesus departs (16:7), for it suggests that his coming is a direct consequence of the saving work of Christ without which he could have no place or function at all. The Paraclete is therefore symptomatic of the era to come in the new covenant and the new life in Christ, the Spiritual life.”6
- The Paraclete has a special relationship to the disciples. “Without exception, the functions ascribed to the Spirit are elsewhere in this Gospel assigned to Christ.”7
- All will know the Paraclete just as the disciples had the privilege of knowing Jesus (14.7, 9).
- The Paraclete will indwell the disciples and remain with them just as Jesus is to remain in and with the disciples (14.16–17, 20, 23; 15.4–5; 17.23, 26).
- The Paraclete as the Spirit of truth (14.17; 15.26; 16.13) will teach and guide the disciples into “all the truth” (16.13), just as Jesus is the truth (14.6; cf. 1.14).
- The Spirit bears witness to Christ (15.26) and glorifies Christ (16.14), just as it is Christ from whom the Paraclete receives what he makes known to the disciples (16.14).8
- The Paraclete has a unique role in the world to convict the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment (16.8). The world cannot “see” Jesus (5.43; 12.48); the world cannot see the Paraclete. The legal/forensic language comes in to play here because the Paraclete is both witness to Jesus (15.26; 16.14), but he also assists “the disciples in their witness in the world, since his witness takes place through their own.”9 The Paraclete is the Spirit of truth (14.17) who points to the one who is “the way, the truth, and the life; 14.6).
The Mission of the Trinity
There is an extremely close relationship between the Paraclete and Jesus. Not only do they share (some of) the same functions, but Jesus expressly states that the Paraclete is “another Helper” (ἄλλον παράκλητον; 14.16).10 Jesus too was a Paraclete, albeit one different from the Spirit (cf. 1 John 2.1).
Here we see how the Son and the Spirit can belong together (as God) and participate in the same work (the mission of God) and yet be different persons and have different assignments or functions, thus allowing for a distinction in purpose, a unity in function, and an equality in essence. And the relationship among the Trinity is gifted to us by means of the Spirit—the Paraclete, for at his departure (cross, resurrection, ascension) Jesus gives us “a share in his filial relationship with the Father by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.”11
The title Paraclete “refers to the ministerial office of the Trinitarian God in the world, occupied by both the Son of God and the Spirit of God.”12 It refers to both the Spirit of God and to the Son of God, the one who is “the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known,” Jesus Christ (1.18). This Jesus is in the Father and the Father is in him. The Father sends the Spirit to his people in Jesus’s name (14.26). It is in this intimate relationship that believers—people, humans—are included. In fact, Jesus concludes his prayer to the Father by saying “I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them” (17.26). Jesus is in believers, and the love which God shows to his Son is shown to his sons and daughters in Christ.
5 Ibid., 632-33.
6 Ibid., 633.
10 “The adjective ‘another’ (ἄλλον) signifies ‘another of the same kind.’” (634).
12 Ibid., 635.