Stephen Smalley asserts that "The Spirit-Paraclete ... in John's Gospel is understood as personal, indeed, as a person."

Marianne Meye Thompson, The God of the Gospel of John
"Descriptions of the Spirit-Paraclete in John have raised the question of the nature or reality of the Spirit itself. Two primary conceptions of the Spirit, representing nearly opposite ends on the spectrum of opinion, have been suggested by interpreters of the Fourth Gospel. On the one hand, the Spirit has been understood, along with "wisdom" and "word," as a way of speaking of God's activity or as the manifestation of a particular divine activity or power. Exploiting the play on the words "spirit" and "breath" (ruach in the Hebrew, pneuma in the Greek), this model conceives of the Spirit on analogy with God's power, wisdom, or breath. To speak of the presence of the Spirit is to speak of the presence of God, since "spirit" connotes the means of God's power or activity in the world. One might then be able to draw some conclusions about how God worked, or in what ways God's presence was manifested and experienced, or perhaps to point to a specific aspect of God's work. In a summary of this review, George Johnston writes:

The figurative speech in all these passages should be noted: spirit like water is a cleansing agent (1:33); spirit like breath is a vital element (20:22); spirit as teaching, guiding, defending, is a divine power (chs. 14-16). Unifying them all is surely the concept of a Christlike power that is finally in the control of God, the heavenly Father.... The Gospel material is more readily aligned with ideas of supernatural powers than with the Christian doctrine of the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity.

On the other hand, the Spirit has also been conceived of as a "personal divine being distinct from and in some degree independent of God." For example, Stephen Smalley asserts that "the Spirit-Paraclete ... in John's Gospel is understood as personal, indeed, as a person." A substantial impetus for such an understanding of the Spirit has been provided by analysis of various figures proposed as patterns for the portrayal of the Johannine Paraclete, including particularly prophetic figures, such as Elijah and Elisha, and angelic figures, such as the archangel Michael or the interpreting angel of apocalyptic. On this model the Spirit-Paraclete can be conceived of something like an angel, a quasi-independent figure summoned by God to carry out particular divine purposes or to complete a certain mission in the world. One can still draw conclusions about God's work in the world, but the nature of God's presence within the world, and especially the reality of the Spirit itself and ultimately the identity of God, become more complex since "the Spirit" cannot simply be equated with God's power of God's own presence.

Most intriguing is the way in which these two different ways of conceiving the role or identity of the Spirit find their support in different portions of the Gospel. The terms Paraclete, Spirit of Truth, and Holy Spirit appear almost exclusively in the so-called Farewell Discourses (chs. 14-17). In the narrative portions of the Gospels (chs. 1-12, 18-21), only the simple "Spirit" appears. Moreover, the differences in terminology correspond to differences in the primary functions allotted to the "spirit" and the "Paraclete." As W.G. Kummel comments, "The effects of the Spirit and of the Paraclete are not altogether described as the same; cf., on the one hand, "to be born of water and Spirit" and the Spirit as the source of life in the believer, and on the other hand, teaching, recalling, testifying, and convicting as functions of the Paraclete." Thus in the narrative portions of the Gospel, Jesus is said to be the one who will baptize "with" or "by" the Holy Spirit, where the Spirit, described on analogy with "water," is conceived of virtually as a substance poured out upon believers. One must be "born of the Spirit" (3:5-6), equivalent to being born "from above," through the activity of God. God brings life through the power of the Spirit, a thought certainly in keeping both with the biblical tradition of the life-giving Spirit, such as Ezekiel's prophecy of the "dry bones" brought to life by the Spirit (Ezek. 37:14), and with the Johannine conception of the Spirit as a life-giving force (3:6; 6:63). These and other passages in John have suggested that the Holy Spirit is God's power, particularly manifested as God's life-giving power.

The passages that provide the strongest evidence for conceiving of the Spirit as a distinct figure, an independent agent or actor, are all found in the Farewell Discourses, chapters 14-17 of the Gospel (14:16-17, 26; 15:26; 16:7, 3). What is peculiar to this group of passages is not only their location in those discourses, but that here, and here alone, is the Spirit called the "Paraclete." The functions attributed to the Paraclete differ markedly from those attributed to the Spirit elsewhere in John. The dominant description of the Spirit-Paraclete is as a teacher and guide who will be with believers. Thus the Spirit teaches (14:26; cf. 1 John 2:27); reminds disciples of Jesus' words (14:26); testifies on Jesus' behalf (15:26); accuses or convicts the world (16:8-11); and speaks, declares, and glorifies Jesus (16:13). The Spirit is also described as another paraclete, who in some way can be set alongside Jesus. Moreover, the Spirit is "sent" by God (14:26; 15:26; 16:7), language that calls to mind the sending of prophets and of course of Jesus himself. The Spirit "comes from" God (15:26; 16:7, 13). The Spirit can be "received" or "welcomed," as Jesus was received; believers are said to "know" and, most peculiarly, to "see" the Spirit (14:16-17).

All in all, the descriptions of the Spirit and the Spirit's activities in the Farewell Discourses comport well with a picture of the Spirit as a distinct figure who is sent, like the prophets and angels, to human beings as a divine messenger, and so who can be said to "come" in the name of the Lord, and to be welcomed or rejected by them. The Spirit is not so much the agency or manifestation of God's presence but God's present agent. Hence, God would not be present as Spirit but perhaps in or even with the Spirit, in much the same way that God is present in a prophetic or angelic messenger."

Marianne Meye Thompson, The God of the Gospel of John
Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company (October 2001), pp. 146-149

"Parakletos ... the Isaian portrayal of God as a mother who comforts her children."- Carol Frances Jegen

Carol Frances Jegen, Mary according to Women
"John's gospel draws significant parallels between the sending of the Spirit and the sending of the disciples. The functions assigned to the Paraclete are precisely the functions assigned by the gospel to the disciples. We have no exact synonym for the term Parakletos as used by John. The word really has no Hebrew equivalent, although both John and Luke are clearly influenced by the Isaian portrayal of God as a mother who comforts her children. The Greek term common to John's milieu had a variety of distinct meanings, all of which John probably intended to evoke. Helpful insight can be gained by examining briefly key passages in the Farewell Discourses of the fourth gospel, which contains five Paraclete sayings (14:15-17; 14:25-26; 15:26-27; 16:7-11; 16:12-14). The Johannine Paraclete is described as Advocate/ Counselor, Intercessor/ Mediator, Comforter/ Consoler, and Exhorter/ Stimulator/ Life-Giver.


In ancient Israel a judge, sometimes the king, used to act as an attorney endeavouring to bring justice to the oppressed. In Isaiah, we saw Yahweh as Advocate for Israel; in John, the Paraclete takes on that role in two ways. First, the Paraclete pleads Jesus' case, defending him and acting as a witness at his trial (John 14:16). The defense's task is to testify that Jesus is the true victor. The Paraclete also serves as a prosecuting attorney who puts the world on trial, convicting it of sin (16:7-11).

During Jesus' life, his very presence had highlighted the contrast between his words and deeds and the dismal reality of a sinful world. When he leaves, the Paraclete will continue the critical ministry of convicting the world of its sin, its self-righteousness, and its unbelief or, as John puts it, "sin, righteousness, and judgment"—three basic motifs of prophetic proclamation.


This Paraclete saying deals with Jesus' approaching death and the passing on of his teaching mission through the Paraclete:

These things I have spoken to you, while abiding with you.
But the paraclete, the holy spirit, whom the father will send
in my name, will teach you all things, and bring your
remembrance all that I have said to you.

Because the Paraclete will pass on to them the message of Jesus and explain to them what Jesus meant, his disciples will be able to perceive more than was possible for Jesus' contemporaries. Indeed, the Paraclete will empower disciples faithfully to carry on their own ministry as true witness/prophets (15:26-27).

The Paraclete will also disclose to them what is to come, another prophetic aspect of the Paraclete's role. Jesus' spirit engages in no rote passing on of Jesus' message, however. Rather, the nature of prophecy compels the Paraclete to alter, amend, and even authorize"new words of Jesus for new and unprecedented times."This is strong scriptural reassurance, backing the quest of today's feminist theologians for"new words of Jesus"for our times.


During the Farewell Discourse, Jesus told his disciples that he was leaving them, that they must witness to him, and that they also would be persecuted. Small wonder they were discouraged. But Jesus reassures them; he will send a comforter to strengthen them. The Paraclete will take his place in their lives, will live in them, and will help carry out their mission of witnessing to and confronting an imperfect world. As should be quite clear by now, this promise of comfort never implies an end to the suffering inherent in the prophetic task. Rather, the comfort is that the disciples are not left alone; the Spirit-Paraclete will be working within and through them, enabling them to know all truth and empowering them to do far greater works than even Jesus did (John 14:12). This promise of the disciple being able to outshine the leader is particularly characteristic of the Johannine gospel...


John concludes his gospel with a dynamic outward impulse: the young Christian community is not to look backward but to move into the future. In a certain sense, the community is living in God's future even now. Jesus himself was sent to reveal God—the Comforter-God who cares for the poor and sends forth prophets to carry on God's mission. In John's gospel, Jesus too sends forth disciples. Now disciples are sent to continue God's mission of bestowing comfort/salvation to all in the name of Jesus Christ.

The community's stance toward the world, then, is one of outreach and responsibility. The Spirit-Comforter is present as stimulator and encourager, acting as source of life to energize the community to perform this mission. The Spirit, through whom Jesus is present in the community, abides with all disciples, bringing peace, joy, a sense of unity, reconciliation, understanding of the truth, and prophetic challenge to the world. Because of this life-giving presence, the Spirit-Paraclete is creative of community. Because of the presence of the comforter, the entire community—and each person within the community—is capable of greater things than they ever dared hope or imagine. And because of the presence of the Comforter—the strengthening, enlivening, animating presence of the Comforter—the community, and each member of the community, is called to bring that vision of new possibilities to life within a greater world."

Carol Frances Jegen, Mary according to Women
Novalis (Jun 27 2002) pp. 57-60

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