Brian P. Stoffregen Exegetical Notes at

John 15.26-27; 16.4b-15
Pentecost - Year B

Other texts for 6 Easter B: 


There are five "Paraclete"/"Spirit of truth" sayings in John

All of these are part of Jesus' Farewell Discourse. The roles of the "Paraclete" are:

In the Farewell Discourse, a change takes place at 15:18. Jesus begins to talk about the believers relationship with those outside the community (the world).

More specific persecutors/persecution is highlighted in the verses between our texts (16:1-4a). The persecutors are those who "put the believers out of the synagogues" and who think that they are making an offering to God by killing the believers. I certainly would not want to present "the Jews" as the bad guys (half of my genetic heritage is Jewish), but I think that their characteristics are still present today. Namely, those who are so wrapped up in their own understanding of what is true and right -- even killing those who oppose them; that God is unable to break through their hard-heartedness to give them something new and better.

One role of the Paraclete is to be the presence of God/Jesus with the community. That presence is needed because the community is being hated and persecuted by the world. Note that the promise of the Spirit in Mt 10:20; Mk 13:11; Lu 12:12 comes to give words to the believers when they have been arrested! Relying on the Spirit to give the preacher the proper words while in the pulpit does not seem to be part of the Spirit's job description. I believe that God expects us to do some preparation. Although there have been times, especially in private conversations about the faith, when I have felt that my words were coming from somewhere else besides my own rational abilities. There have also been times when I've said all the wrong things. The Spirit isn't under our control, unfortunately; and often we don't place ourselves under the Spirit's control, unfortunately.

Note also that although the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost in Acts gave the believers great power and boldness in their witness, it also led to the arrest of Peter and John (4:3); the arrest of the apostles (5:18); the flogging of apostles (5:40); the stoning of Stephen (7:58-60); and severe persecution against all believers in Jerusalem so that most of them left the city (8:1).

Given these negative results of having the Spirit (and why "Comforter" is not a very accurate translation of "Paraclete"), we may wonder if we really want it. In John, the promise of the Paraclete comes in the midst of promises of hatred and persecution by the world.


I find it best not to translate this word because there are too many possibilities. While the literal meaning of the related verb (parakaleo) means "to call to one's side" -- usually asking the other for help, the noun took on a legal meaning as "helper in court". Thus we have translations like "counselor," "advocate," or "one who speaks for another" as well as the (too) general translation of "helper".

Besides, keeping the word untranslated lends itself to some fun puns. The Paraclete is not a little yellow bird. Paracletes are not those things on the bottom of football and baseball shoes. (And, yes, I have used those puns in sermons.)

This word occurs five times in the NT. It is used in 1J 2:1 to refer to Jesus; and four times in John's Farewell Discourse as I mentioned above.

If the Paraclete is a "helper in court," whose helper is it? I had thought of it as our helper; but I'm more inclined to think of it as Jesus' helper. The Paraclete comes to speak to us for Jesus. In 14:16, it will teach us everything and remind us of all that Jesus has said to us. In 15:26, it will testify on Jesus' behalf. In 16:12 it will guide us into all truth, and speak what it has heard -- making known to us what belongs to Jesus. It helps keep alive all that Jesus said and did.

The Paraclete is also called "the Spirit of truth". This phrase is best understood as an objective genitive: "The Spirit who communicates the truth" although the subjective genitive also has merit: "The true Spirit."

JOHN 15:26-27

The task of the Paraclete in these verses is to witness/testify (martyreo) concerning Jesus; or as Lowe and Nida define the term: "to provide information about a person or an event concerning which the speaker has direct knowledge."

In English a "witness" (or "martyr") refers more to what a person has seen, experienced, or what happened to him/her. An "eye-witness" refers to someone who actually saw the events. That person may or may not share that information. The Greek terms related to martyreo also refer to one's personal experience, but refer more to telling others about the experience. I'm not sure that the Greek word, martys, would be used of a person who did not tell others what s/he had seen or experienced.

Note that the Paraclete is not sent to promote itself, but Jesus. The same is to be true for you who are also to testify/witness (present tense).

Who are the "you" in this verse? This word is emphasized in Greek -- the nominative plural hymeis is used. Does it refer to the eleven disciples, to whom Jesus began speaking to in 13:31? Does John want the readers to think that Jesus is speaking to them? He uses the same form of this word earlier in the chapter.

You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. (15:3)

Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. (15:4)

I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. (15:5)

You are my friends if you do what I command you. (15:14)

You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you so that you would go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. (15:16)

In these other "you" passages, I think that we would see ourselves as being addressed by the word "you". John is speaking to us, not just the eleven.

"You also are to testify" (NRSV). The verb in this phrase is martyreo = "to be a witness." It is presented as a statement: "You are witnessing." The present tense indicates an ongoing process, a repeated, continuous action. The issue is not whether or not we will witness, we are witnessing. The issue is whether or not our witnessing is good or not.

If we or a church promote ourselves and not Christ, we are failing in our witness. Even if we are promoting the Spirit to the exclusion of Christ, we have perverted the Spirit's witness. The Spirit and we are witnessing/testifying to Christ. The word also implies that our witness grows out of our personal experiences with Christ.

I was at a synod committee meeting of Lutherans. As often happens at such meetings, someone told some Ole and Lena jokes. Another person at the meeting, whose dark skin indicated that he was not of Scandinavian heritage commented that in the church where he grew up, they never told ethnic jokes. When they gathered together for meetings or food, they talked about Jesus. I will admit that I am uncomfortable with some "Jesus talk". "Jesus told me to ...." "I wanna thank Jesus for making my last shot go through the hoop." At the same time, many of us in mainline denominations seem to avoid talking about Jesus and what his presence in our lives mean. What if we began every church meeting with people sharing ways Jesus has been involved in their lives since the last meeting? Or ways the Spirit has been leading them to deeper understandings about Jesus? Or ways they have been witnessing to others about Christ?

The hoti clause in v. 27 can be understood a couple of ways. It can designate the content of our witness; i.e., we are to tell others: (that) we have been with Jesus from the beginning. It can designate the reason why we are witnessing; i.e., we are to tell others [about Jesus] because we have been with him from the beginning -- or perhaps better theology, because Jesus has been with us since the beginning of our life of faith. NRSV and others translate the verb in the clause with a perfect, "have been". In Greek it is a present tense, "are". The masculine, genitive object emou, could either come from ego = "with me," or it could come from emos = "with/among mine" = those who are Christ's. Thus the phrase could be translated, "you are with me" or "you are with mine."

I don't have the time to research all the times John uses that phrase to see which understanding seems more likely. It is common in John's writings that many words and phrases have double meanings. On one hand, it refers to the eleven disciples who were physical with Jesus from the beginning of his ministry on earth. On the other hand, it refers to all believers who from the beginning of their life of faith have been among those who belong to Christ, and whose love for one another is a witness to the world.

O'Day (John, New Interpreter's Bible) writes: "... Hoskyns [The Fourth Gospel] suggests that the phrase 'from the beginning' refers to conversion (so 1 John 2:24; 2 John 6) and should not be restricted to a historical connection with Jesus. Since in the Fourth Gospel 'In the beginning' is used to introduce the story of Jesus' relationship with God (1:1) and not his earthly ministry, there may be some grounds for Hoskyn's claim. That is, the expression refers to the beginning of one's relationship with Jesus" [p. 765]. I would add, and one's relationship with Jesus' community, i.e., the church.

Then v. 27 isn't directed only to the first disciples who were with Jesus "from the beginning" of his ministry; but to all believers who can't help but witness to Jesus because they belong to Jesus.

The narrator of John presents himself as an example of one who follows the statement in v. 27. He "witnesses/testifies" so that you may believe (19:35, see also 21:24). (See also John the Baptist -- 1:7, 8, etc.; and the Samaritan woman -- 4:39). What the gospel writer expects us to do, he is doing through this writing, and presents examples of others who witness.

JOHN 16:4b-7

Why did Jesus have to leave? Why couldn't Jesus stay forever with us on earth? The reason given in these verses is that it is better for us if he goes, because he will send the Paraclete to us. Why is it better that the Paraclete comes? I think that within the immediate context of the next section concerning the Spirit and the world, it is eschatological -- the evil of the world that hates and persecutes Jesus and his followers will be exposed by the coming of the Paraclete.

JOHN 16:8-11

In my study on this text, I've had a change in mind about this section. I have frequently preached that it was the Spirit's job to tell us about sin, righteousness, and judgment to lead us to faith. If we are aware that we are sinners and that Jesus came to establish a right relationship with us so that we might escape the coming judgment, then the Spirit has done its work in our lives.

However, the object of the Spirit's work in these verses is not us, but the world (v. 8). As I commented earlier in this note, there is a contrast presented in the larger context between the world and the believers -- they appear to be two separate groups of people. In these verses, Jesus indicates what the Spirit will do with the world. In the next section (vv. 12-15), the object of the Spirit's work is "you" -- the believers.

What the Spirit will do to the world (which has hated Jesus and the believers, 15:18-19) is indicated by the word elegcho. This word occurs three times in John and is translated three different ways in NRSV (see also NIV & TNIV): "to expose" (3:20); "to convict" (8:46); and "to prove wrong" (16:8). Lowe & Nida's definition of the word is: "to state that someone has done wrong, with the implication that there is adequate proof of such wrongdoing."

The proof that the world is wrong about sin is that they don't believe in Jesus. Note that "sin" here is not related to immoral deeds, but to faith -- one's relationship with Jesus.

The proof that the world is wrong about righteousness is Jesus' return to the Father. If we understand dikaiosyne as "doing what God requires," rather than a Pauline, "being put in a right relationship with God," then Jesus' resurrection and ascension indicate that God approved of what Jesus did. In contrast to this, the world thinks that it is doing what God (or better, their understanding of god) wants by persecuting the believers, but they really don't know God (see 16:1-3). They are wrong about knowing and doing what God requires. (Note vv. 8 & 10 are the only two occurrences dikaiosyne in John.)

The proof that the world is wrong about judgment is the fact that the ruler of the world has already been judged/condemned (perfect tense = past action with continuing effects in the present).

The phrase "ruler of this world" occurs three times in John (12:31; 14:30; 16:11). If "the world" refers to those who do not believe in Jesus (see. v. 9); then would the ruler of the unbelievers be Satan or the devil? Is this whom Jesus drives out with his death (12:31) and who is coming, but has no power over Jesus (14:30)? Could it be any authority that people of the world follow, such as one's own selfish desires that keep one from believing and following Jesus? Whoever this ruler is, condemnation (or more properly "judgment" = krino) comes in John precisely because one does not believe in the name of Jesus (3:17-18).

Sometimes Jesus indicates that it is not his purpose to judge (3:17, 8:15; 12:47); and sometimes it is (5:22, 27, 30; 7:24; 8:16, 26). We are told that believers have eternal life and do not come under judgment, but have passed from death to life (5:24, see also 5:29). katakrino, which more properly means "to condemn" occurs only at 8:10-11, where Jesus will not condemn the woman caught in adultery.

Perhaps what is better about the coming of the Paraclete is that it will bring the judgment of the world for their unbelief and their hatred and persecution of Jesus. Note that in these verses the Paraclete is not working to bring the world to faith, but only to prove that the world is wrong.

JOHN 16:12-15

As I mentioned earlier, the object of the Spirit's work in these verses is "you". This is what the Spirit does for those who are believers. O'Day (John, New Interpreter's Bible) summarizes: "The functions of the Paraclete spelled out in these verses will ensure that the disciples do not face the future alone (cf. 14:18), unequipped with the necessary words of Jesus. The Paraclete will carry Jesus' teachings into the future" [p. 773].

The word for "guide" is hodegeo, a compound word from hodos = way, road; and ago = to lead. So literally it means "lead in the way." O'Day writes about this word:

It is used in the Psalms (LXX) to point to the instructional role of God (cf. Pss 25:5, 9; 85:10) in leading the community into right and faithful behavior. In Wis 9:11 and 10:10, it is used to describe the teaching function of Wisdom. This verb thus points to the teaching role the Paraclete will have in the future life of the faith community. Its combination with "truth" is a direct echo of 14:6, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life," and thus specifies the content of the Paraclete's teaching. To say that the Paraclete will guide the disciples into all the truth is to say that in the future the Paraclete will lead the community into the life-giving revelation of God in Jesus. [p. 773]

While I don't agree with the Mormon's view of God's continuing revelation that can create a Book of Mormon which surpasses the Bible in importance, we also need to be open to the guidance of the Spirit to face the issues facing us in our time -- many of which were unheard of in Jesus' day. What would Jesus say to us today about [fill in the blank]? We need to trust that the Spirit will give the believing community the words Jesus would want us to hear. We also need to struggle with the question of how do we determine if our decisions are faithful. How do we determine if something is "good to the Holy Spirit and to us" (Acts 15:28)?


Often, on Pentecost, I will quote or have the congregation recite Martin Luther's explanation to the third article of the creed:

I believe that I cannot by my own understanding or effort 
believe in Jesus Christ my Lord, or come to him.
But the Holy Spirit has called me through the Gospel,
enlightened me with his gifts,
and sanctified and kept me in true faith.
in the same way he calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies
the whole Christian church on earth,
and keeps it united with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.
In this Christian church day after day
he fully forgives me sins and the sins of all believers.
On the last day he will raise me and all the dead
and give me and all believers in Christ eternal life.
This is most certainly true.

Perhaps the paradoxical statement, "I believe that I can't believe," can lead us from being people of the world (e.g., I can do it myself, I understand it all myself) to people of God (God does for me what I can't do for myself and sometimes I am wrong). I have frequently described the content of faith as "tentative absolutes." This is what I am absolutely sure about now; but I am open for the Spirit to give new revelations, new insights, new information which might change me and my beliefs tomorrow.

Brian Stoffregen
Faith Lutheran Church, 1000 D St., Marysville, CA 95901