Our Counselor, and More
Why is the Spirit called “Counselor” in the Gospel of John?
The Greek term parakletos, translated “counselor” in some Bible versions, does not have an exact English equivalent. It was used in Greek literature to refer to a person called to someone’s aid, or who appeared on another’s behalf as a counselor, intercessor, mediator, helper, or as an advocate in a court of law. When Jesus applies it to the Holy Spirit, it reveals something about the nature and functions of the Spirit. Since the term is used exclusively in the writings of John, I will examine those passages.
1. Jesus and the Counselor: In John, as well as in the rest of the New Testament, Jesus and the Spirit are very closely connected. But they are not the same person. In John Jesus identifies theparakletos with the Spirit (16:15), the Holy Spirit (14:26), and the Spirit of truth (14:17; 15:26; 16:13). In other words, He used new terminology to refer to the Holy Spirit. When Jesus says “another Counselor” (14:16, HCSB; cf. 1 John 2:1),1 implying that He is also a counselor, He is clearly making a distinction between Himself and the Spirit. The difference between the two is also accentuated by the fact that the Spirit (parakletos) will be sent by the Father at the request of the Son (14:16, 26). Finally, the difference between the two is indicated by the fact that the coming of the Spirit will take place after Jesus returns to the Father (16:7). The Spirit (parakletos) will remain with His people forever (14:16). So unlike Jesus, the Spirit will not return to the Father while God’s people are still in the world. He will take the place of Jesus on earth.
2. Functions of the Counselor: Three main functions are assigned to the Spirit (parakletos). He is a teacher: He “will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you” (14:26, NIV).2 The Spirit will build up the church on the basis of the teachings of Jesus by reminding the disciples of His teachings and revealing their depths of meaning. He will also reveal to them the eschatological content of the message of Jesus (16:13). It is only in that sense that the Spirit “will guide you into all the truth” (16:13, NIV).
Second, and closely related to the previous one, the Spirit will glorify Jesus. Jesus is glorified when the Spirit takes what belongs to Jesus and reveals it to us (16:14). He glorifies Himself, not by providing for us new things, but by telling us that what we receive is all from Jesus.
Third, the role of the Spirit is to witness on behalf of Jesus and His people against the world. The coming of the Spirit testifies to the fact that believers belong to God, thus radicalizing the distinction between them and the world. Together with believers, the Spirit also testifies on behalf of Jesus by calling people to come to Jesus as the exalted one (15:25, 26). His testimony against the world addresses its rejection of Jesus, the sin that characterizes it, and the judgment of God against evil (16:8-11).
3. Nature of the Spirit: By calling the Spirit “another Counselor” Jesus has established once and for all that the Spirit is a person like Him. Although the Greek noun “spirit” (pneuma) is neuter (and some refer to the Spirit as “it”), the noun “counselor” (parakletos) is masculine and personal. The Spirit is not an “it,” but a personal divine being. His divinity is addressed by Jesus when He says that the Spirit “proceeds from the Father” (15:26). The verb “proceeds from” (ekperuomai) points to the place of origin of the Spirit. His natural place of existence is within the mystery of the Godhead, and it is God who sends Him. By identifying the Spirit as a parakletos, Jesus has provided for us a way of thinking about the Spirit as a person.
We can visualize Him as a counselor, as a person who helps us in time of need (comforter), and who accompanies us during our pilgrimage, sustaining, transforming, and revealing to us what belongs to Jesus. The Spirit speaks for us and to us; He is the parakletos.
1 Texts credited to HCSB are taken from the Holman Christian Standard Bible, copyright © 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission.
2 Scripture quotations credited to NIV are from the Holy Bible, New International Version. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Now retired, Angel Manuel Rodríguez has served the church for several decades, most recently as director of the Biblical Research Institute of the General Conference.