Formations 05.10.2015: Standing on the Threshold

John 14:15-26

af24_3_051015_a_cA few weeks ago, I received yet another grim reminder that I am getting old. (For some reason, my wife is doing just fine while I lose ground by the minute!) I attended an orientation for rising ninth-graders at my daughter’s school.

Suddenly, words I was only aware of only in the abstract became palpably real and relevant: “graduation requirements,” “scholarship applications,” “career pathway,” and, probably most disturbing of all: “driver’s license.” It only took a few minutes at that meeting for my admiration and gratitude for my own parents to increase tenfold.

Thankfully, our school has a great faculty and staff, including a very capable guidance counselor. She walked us through the things we needed to know and assured us she’d be around to answer the questions that are bound to come up later. Sometimes all you need is the assurance that you don’t have to do it on your own.

As my daughter finishes eighth grade and begins her high school years, I’ve no doubt there will be times she feels overwhelmed by the whole thing. And who could blame her! She has entered what sociologists call a period of liminality (from the Latin word for “threshold”). She’s no longer a child, not yet an adult, and working at finding her way toward all that adulthood means. I pray my wife and I will be ready to give her the tools, the encouragement, and more than anything the gift of our presence that she’ll need to find her way.

In the Farewell Discourse, the disciples had entered their own period of liminality. Jesus was about to leave them in the material, literal sense. Their own ministry to the world was about to begin, and they would no doubt need guidance as they worked toward all that being a follower of Christ means. Jesus prepares them by offering tools, assurance, and presence—all available through the Holy Spirit.

Even though Jesus will soon leave them, he won’t leave them orphans.

Discussion

• What does it mean that Jesus (or John) calls the Spirit “the Companion” (or Paraclete)?
• What does this terminology tell us about the Spirit’s role in our lives?
• How does the Spirit teach us?
• How can believers distinguish between authentic teachings of the Spirit and spiritual counterfeits who only pretend to speak in God’s name?

Reference Shelf

The Paraclete

Outside the NT, paraclete is used with the sense of a “mediator,” a “counselor” or “comforter,” or one who pleads for someone else as a helper. The idea expressed in the word is sometimes said to originate in Gnostic beliefs in heavenly messengers or “helpers,” but the primary source of the NT idea is probably the frequent OT pattern of humans or angels acting as advocates for others before God (Abraham: Gen 18:23-33; Moses: Exod 32:11 et al.; Samuel: I Sam 7:8 et al.; Job 33:23; Zech 1:12 et al.). In intertestamental writings, this advocacy is extended to the Spirit of God, who acts before God’s judgment seat to de fend believers and condemn sinners.

While continuing these earlier patterns, the Johannine paraclete transforms them by relating this advocate to Jesus Christ. When Jesus is no longer physically present, the paraclete will bear witness to Christ and to the father, judging the world and declaring “the things that are to come” (John 15:26; 16:15). The paraclete thus combines functions of prophet, teacher, and judge with that of sustaining the community of faith by dwelling in its members as the Spirit of God (John 14: 16-20).

Many translations of the NT simply use “paraclete,” the English form of the Greek word. “Helper,” “supporter,” or “counselor” are appropriate English translations, but “comforter,” while a popular rendering in later Christian history, is a less accurate version of the NT Greek.

David W. Rutledge, “Advocate/Paraclete,” Mercer Dictionary of the Bible, ed. Watson E. Mills et al. (Macon GA: Mercer University Press, 1990), 13.

The Spirit of Prophecy

[John 14:15-17] focuses on two major differences between the disciples and the world. (a) The disciples keep Jesus’ commandments (plural, not singular, so not the new commandment of 13:34 but rather the complete revelation imparted by Jesus; cf. 1 John 3:23-24a). They keep the commandments because they love (maintain covenant fidelity toward) Jesus. (b) The disciples are the recipients of a promise made by Jesus: “I will pray the Father and he will give you another Paraclete to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth.” (c) The gift of the Paraclete, moreover, sets the disciples off from the world. Whereas the world cannot receive the Spirit, the Paraclete will dwell with and be in the disciples.

There are five Paraclete sayings in John’s farewell speech (14:15-17; 14:25-26; 15:26-27; 16:7b-11; and 16:12-15, which actually does not use the term but does speak of the Spirit of truth, a synonym for Paraclete in 14:17 and 15:26). The Greek term “Paraclete” (parakletos) is variously translated: e.g., Comforter, Counselor, Consoler, Advocate, Strengthener, Helper, Someone to stand by you, He who is to befriend you. No one term covers all the functions of the Johannine Paraclete. For insiders/disciples, the Paraclete is an abiding presence (14:16-17); a teaching presence, calling to mind Jesus’ words (14:26); and a presence that both guides into all truth and declares the things to come (15:11-13). In relation to outsiders, the Paraclete bears witness to Jesus (15:26-27) and exposes the unbelieving world, proving it guilty before God (16:8-11).

The hypothesis that fits the most facts is that the Paraclete is the Spirit of prophecy…. A comparison of the Johannine Paraclete’s functions with those of early Christian prophecy as known from elsewhere is persuasive: console and comfort: 1 Cor 14:3; teach all things, guide into all truth: Acts 13:1; 1 Cor 14:31; witness to Jesus, convict of sin: 1 Cor 14:24-25; declare the things to come: Rev 1:1-3; 22:6, 10; 1 Thess 4:16-17; be with the disciples “to the age”: 1 Cor 13:8-10. The cognates parakalein [to console, to exhort] and paraklesis [consolation, exhortation], moreover, are connected with prophecy in the New Testament (Acts 15:32; 1 Cor 14:3, 31; 1 Thess 4:18). If Paraclete means “the verbal manifestation of the Spirit,” then it is clear why the Paraclete is called “another Paraclete.” Jesus in his earthly career is the one on whom the Spirit descends and remains (1:33) and, therefore, the one who utters the words of God continuously because it is not by measure that God has given the Spirit to him (3:34). Just as Jesus, in his earthly career, is the prophetic voice of the Spirit, so after Jesus’ glorification when the Spirit is given to the disciples, the earthly Christians are the prophetic voice of the Spirit, the Paraclete. In this, the disciples are manifestly different from the world.

Charles H. Talbert, Reading John, Reading the New Testament (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2005), 214–15.

Darrell Pursiful is the editor of Formations. He is an adjunct professor at Mercer University and an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.

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