The advocate in John


Breakfast with the Bible, Chelmsford Cathedral, 26 May 2019 – led by Paul Beasley-Murray

Years ago Dorothy Sayers wrote: “There are those who would worship the Father, the Son & the Virgin Mary; those who believe in the Father, the Son & Holy Scriptures; those who found their faith on the Father, the Son & the Church; & there are even those who seem to derive their spiritual power from the Father, the Son, and the minister“. Since then things have changed. Thanks to the charismatic movement of the 1960s there has been a fresh recognition of the person of the HS. Indeed, in some churches the pendulum has swung to the opposite extreme. So much so, that one charismatic theologian, Tom Smail, was led to write a book entitled The Forgotten Father“.


This morning I have been given the task of focussing on the work of the Holy Spirit as we find it described in John 14.23-29. There we find the Holy Spirit called the Paraclete.

For John 14.26 we read: “But the Advocate – literally the Paraclete – the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach your everything

Paraclete is the Anglicised form of the Greek word (paracletos).

In the NT the word ‘Paraclete’ is found only five times: four times in John’s Gospel, and once in John’s First Letter.

  • In John’s Gospel it only appears in the so-called ‘Farewell Discourses’ of Jesus (John 14.16,.26; 15.26; 16.7) and is always used of the Holy Spirit.

  • By contrast in 1 John 2.1 the term is used of Jesus.

Grammatically, the word ‘Paraclete’ is a ‘verbal adjective’: it comes from a Greek verb which means: “to call alongside”. I.e. the Paraclete is the one who has been “called alongside”. But ‘called alongside’ to do what? It is at this point that our English translations depart from one another and offer a variety of translations.

(a) “Comforter” (AV).

Older people, brought up on the AV, will be familiar with the translation of ‘the Comforter’: “I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter”.

But what do we mean by this term? For us today a comforter is a person one who cheers up the sad & stops their tears. In American English a comforter is a dummy, something you give a baby to stop it crying.

But this is misleading and is not what the 17C English divines, who gave us the AV, meant by the word “Comforter”. For the word comforter is derived from the Latin fortis, which means brave. And in 17C English to “comfort” meant to make brave, to strengthen.

In this sense the translators of the AV were right. The Holy Spirit does make people brave. So Luke tells us that when the believers in Jerusalem were being threatened by the Jewish authorities “They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God with boldness” (Acts 4.31). Peter & John had been forbidden to speak of Jesus, but they refused to be silenced – why? because the “Comforter” made them bold.

This original meaning of “Comforter” is found in the Bayeux tapestry, which in 72 pictures tells the story of King William & the Norman conquest of England in 1066. In one scene William is marching behind his troops with a drawn sword, prodding them. Beneath are the words: “King William comforteth his soldiers“. It is a wonderful illustration of the task of the Holy Spirit – the Holy Spirit prods us, incites us, and urges us on.

The Holy Spirit ‘comforts’ the church, in the sense that he drives the church out in mission. We see this in the Book of Acts, where the ‘Acts of the Apostles’ were acts inspired by the Holy Spirit.

(b) “Advocate” (the old JB; NEB & REB; NRSV; TNIV).

The old Catholic Jerusalem Bible, the NEB & the REB, the NRSV, and the NIV, have a different translation. They speak of the advocate.

Within a legal context, the term paraclete was used of an “advocate“. An advocate is a person who speaks on another’s behalf and in their favour. In our judicial system barristers often act as advocates, speaking in defence of their client, either arguing they didn’t do it, or if they are clearly guilty, then putting forward mitigating circumstances.

In 1 Jn 2.1 Jesus is described in this legal sense as our advocate, our paraclete: “If any one does sin, we have an advocate with the Father [GNB: someone who pleads with the Father on our behalf] Jesus Christ the righteous“.

The question arises: does paraclete have that sense here in John’s Gospel? Certainly there are legal overtones in John 16.8-11 where Jesus says that the Holy Spirit will “prove [older versions: convict] world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgement” – however there the Holy Spirit is portrayed more acting as a prosecuting counsel rather than speaking as defence counsel.

If there are legal connotations here in Jn 14, then the Holy Spirit is depicted as our defence counsel here on earth – giving us wisdom as to what to say when they find themselves placed in difficult situations. This is reminiscent of words of Jesus found in Mk 13.11: “When they bring you to trial…, do not worry beforehand about what you are to say; but say whatever is given you at that time, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit“.

(c) “Counsellor” (RSV; NIV)

The version I grew up with (RSV) translated “Counsellor” – so also initially the NIV.

Unfortunately today when we think of ‘counsellors’, we tend to think of people who are there to help us to understand ourselves – who begin each session asking “How do you feel today? What kind of a week have you had?” But the Holy Spirit is not a Counsellor in the non-directive psycho-therapeutic mould. He is not there in the first place to help us understand ourselves. Rather he is there to “guide (us) into all the truth” (16.12).

Perhaps a better translation would be “consultant” or ‘advisor’.

(d) Friend (The Message)

Eugene Peterson in his paraphrase speaks of the Paraclete as our ‘Friend’: “He’ll provide you another Friend so that you will always have someone with you”. Jim Packer (Keep in Step with the Spirit 61) similarly speaks of the Paraclete as our ‘Senior Friend’.

A friend is one who stands by us (see JB Philips: “He will give you someone else to stand by you, to be with you always”); one who gives advice and support. And, of course, that is true of the Spirit. But the term ‘Paraclete’ is not normally used of a friend.

(e) “Helper” (GNB)

The Good News Bible speaks of the Paraclete as our Helper. This links in with what Paul says about the Holy Spirit in Rom 8.26: “The Spirit helps us in our weakness

The fact is that none of us are strong enough to be self-sufficient

We need God’s Spirit in our lives to cope with all life’s challenges.

For me this is the best of translations, because it is open to every nuance.

  • The Holy Spirit helps us, by giving us courage to witness to the Lord Jesus.

  • In difficult situations he helps by, giving us the right words to say.

  • When faced with complex decisions, he is there as our own personal consultant, ready to guide and advise

  • Full of wisdom, he is there to help us as a Senior Friend.


But in our passage for today, the focus is on a different aspect of the Holy Spirit’s help.

John 14.24: The Paraclete will “teach you everything and remind you of all that I have said to you”.

The Spirit “will teach you everything”.

Needless to say, the Spirit will not teach us everything in the sense that he will teach us the basics of Chinese or the principles of algebra. The “everything” in question relates to Jesus.

Indeed, the two statements about teaching & reminding are two different ways of saying the same thing. Jesus was in effect saying to his disciples that he would teach them everything by reminding them of all that he himself had told them.

How does reminding or remembering help the learning process?

Reminding or remembering brings understanding. Jesus said that when the disciples later recall their time with him, they will understand the significance of all that they saw and heard.

We see this illustrated in two earlier passages in John’s Gospel

  • In John 2 John describes the so-called cleansing of the temple by Jesus, when Jesus had driven out of the temple the traders and money-changers. On that occasion Jesus had quoted Psalm 69 and had spoken somewhat enigmatically about himself, and in particular about his death and resurrection. At the time his words had not made sense. But says John, “after he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word Jesus had spoken” (2.22)

  • Similarly in John 12. John describes the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, which at the time did not make sense to the disciples. He writes: “Jesus found a donkey and sat on it; as it is written, ‘Do not be afraid, daughter of Zion. Look, your king is coming sitting on a donkey’s colt!’. His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that theses things had been written of him and had been done to him” (12.14-16).

The Holy Spirit not only enabled the disciples to recall the words and deeds of Jesus, but also to perceive their significance – he enabled them to see the truth of God’s revelation in Jesus.

The Spirit was given not just to the original disciples – he was given to his later disciples too.

The Spirit led the apostles into all the truth (16.13)– but so too did he lead the early church fathers at Nicaea, the great thinkers of the Reformation, and theologians of more recent years – indeed he leads us too as we read his word today..

But there are two constraints to the present work of the Spirit

  1. The truth that the Spirit leads us into is truth about Jesus.

  2. The Spirit guides by throwing new light on the things that Jesus said and did: i.e. the new revelation has the continual check of the original revelation. There is no way in which the Spirit can create a wholly new revelation, portraying a totally different kind of Jesus. The Spirit simply fills out the revelation brought by Jesus. For Jesus alone is the truth.


  1. What role does the Holy Spirit have in your life?
  1. Of the various English terms for the Paraclete, which do you find most helpful?
  1. To what extent would you agree that ‘The Lord has yet more light and truth to break forth from his word’?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *