The Paraclete in the The Gospel of John

The Gospel of John chapters 13 to 17 contains an extended discourse that takes place at the Last Supper.  There is no mention of the discourse (including the washing of feet) in the synoptic gospels, and some scholars have pondered as to why this is so.  The first thing we should state is that only two of the four Gospel writers were likely ‘seated’ at table at the Last Supper: John and Matthew.  So it should be no surprise that Luke and Mark do not include the discourse found in John’s “Book of Glory” (chapters 13 to 20).

If one is familiar with the contents and the audience of Matthew and John, you can see why Matthew did not report the account at Last Supper.  He wrote for a Jewish audience.  His goal was not only to show that Jesus was the Son of God, but that Jesus was the Messiah foretold in the Old Testament.  From this perspective, the Last Super discourse would not have been a priority for Matthew. His theological centerpiece is the Sermon on the Mount, an extended discourse on Jewish law and moral teaching.

It is fair to surmise that John had access to the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke before he wrote his own.  John had several goals.  He chose to omit the parables of Jesus, since the synoptics had preserved them to the point of redundancy.  He chose to center the first half of the book on seven miracles and the reaction of the crowd to the works of Jesus, and he begins his description of the ministry of Jesus with the prophet John the Baptist declaring,” Behold, the Lamb of God” (1:36).

John’s work is original but it is not fictional.  He gave much thought to the structure of the Gospel, presenting seven miracles in chapters 2 to 11 that gradually reveal who Jesus is.  Then in the second part of the Gospel, the Book of Glory, Jesus gives an extended discourse at the Last Supper, and John gives us further details about the Passion that are not contained in the Synoptics.  John the Evangelist (and apostle) decided from the outset to write a Gospel that explored ground that other Gospels had not, while confirming the general sequence of events of the death and resurrection of Jesus.  [The differences between John and the synoptics on the Passion account is something I’ll get into around Easter.]

The Paraclete in the Last Supper Discourse
John’s Last Supper discourse is unique because he introduces a term for the Holy Spirit not used in the synoptics: παράκλητος “paraclete.” Strong’s translates this term as “advocate” or “comforter.” John mentions the paraclete four times in the same discourse, in verses 14:16, 14:26, 15:26, and 16:7. In case there is any confusion, John equates the Holy spirit with the Paraclete at 14:26. Here are three of the four citations:

When the Advocate comes whom I will send you from the Father, the Spirit of truth that proceeds from the Father, he will testify to me. And you also testify, because you have been with me from the beginning. 15:26

The Advocate, the holy Spirit that the Father will send in my name–he will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you. 14:26

But I tell you the truth, it is better for you that I go. For if I do not go, the Advocate will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes he will convict the world in regard to sin and righteousness and condemnation: sin, because they do not believe in me; righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will no longer see me; condemnation, because the ruler of this world has been condemned. 16:7-11

Where is John going with his references to the Paraclete? He wishes to reassure the disciples that after his passion and ascension into heaven, God will still be with them. He also wants to explain to them that if they speak on God’s behalf, the Paraclete will be there to inspire them.

John also appears to be building a theological bridge between the witness of the Apostles and the writings of Paul and Luke-Acts. Paul and Luke were not witnesses to the life of Jesus, so it would seem that John wants to root a theology of the Holy Spirit in the teachings of Christ himself. John does not use the term “pneuma” for spirit, as the epistles of Paul and Acts do. He personalizes the work of the Third Person of the Trinity, calling the Holy Spirit by an anthropomorphic name – comforter or advocate.

Some critics have levelled the charge that the Gospel of John is so Christologically oriented that it must have been influenced by Greek or Gnostic thought. That’s an interesting theory, but here we see that John actually avoids the Greek term “pneuma,” rather than embracing a term that is of Platonic origin. Instead of taking the Greek philosophic route, John the Evangelist personalizes the work of the Holy Spirit.

John’s work is complimentary, in many ways, to the writings of Paul and Luke. John confirms that the Paraclete is sent by God. He confirms that God is present in this world, through the Spirit, when Jesus is not. He also indirectly supports the idea that Jesus is exclusively God-become-Man, since the work of God is accomplished through the Spirit where Christ is not physically present. Of course, theologians over the centuries have emphasized that where the Spirit is present, the Trinity is present, and where Christ is present, the Trinity is present. However, John, in his Last Supper discourse, has helped us to understand the work of the Spirit in the context of the Father and the Son.

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