Who is the paracletos?
info This commentary was written by a volunteer for our Bible translation project. It’s not an official view of our project; we are not a religious denomination and we do not establish doctrine. These commentaries reflect a variety of views and some disagree with each other.
Advocate, Helper, Comforter, or Savior?
The Greek word paracletos (pronounced: para-kleh-tose), as found at John 14:16; 14:26; 15:26; 16:7, and 1 John 2:1, has been translated many ways in other Bibles, and we aren’t implying that these other translations are wrong. However, the two words that make up this single combined word are:
- para, meaning ‘next to’.
- cletos, meaning ‘caller’.
So, this combination of words appears to refer to an entity that stands next to us and calls out to God on our behalf.
Who, or what, this is exactly?
An online search for other meanings of paracletos turned up the word lawyer, which implies someone that represents us legally. However, we have chosen to use the friendlier term advocate wherever the word paracletos is found (such as at 1 John 2:1, 2).
Notice how translating the word paracletos as advocate seems to be supported by Paul’s words at Romans 8:26, 27, where he wrote:
‘The [Holy] Spirit also helps us with our weaknesses, because we don’t always know what to pray for.
However, the Spirit is there, groaning the words [that we] haven’t spoken.
And the One that searches hearts knows the thoughts of the Spirit;
Because, like a god, he’s an advocate for the holy ones.’
Another view of the meaning of paracletos comes from an Aramaic translator who says that the word is of Aramaic origin and means Savior, or, Another Savior. And we will allow that this quite different translation could be correct, because we know that Jesus likely spoke Aramaic to his Jewish disciples.
One argument that we found online presented Jesus as being the paracletos, because he was called the paraclete at 1 John 2:1, 2. However, the words of Jesus himself at John 16:7 seem to dispel that theory, for he said:
‘If I didn’t go away, the Advocate wouldn’t come to you.
But if I go, I’ll send him to you.’
In Greek this reads literally:
If/ever for not I/should/go/off the paracletos not not would/come toward you.
If/ever but I/should/go I/shall/send him toward you.’
However, if Jesus was the paracletos, he would simply have said, ‘I will come to you.’ Therefore, we must assume that the reference to Jesus being the paracletos in 1 John was not implying that Jesus was the Holy Spirit, but that this is a simple reference to the fact that Jesus is also our advocate before God.
Of course, much has been made of Jesus’ use of the personal pronoun, he and him, when speaking of the paracletos or the Holy Spirit. This is because some, in an attempt to tie him (or it) into a trinity with God and Jesus, like to speak of the paracletos as a third personality within The God. And this is why the use of the word him in these cases is a hotly-debated topic between Trinitarians and non-Trinitarians.
So, what is the paracletos?
Well, the answer is simply unclear (not enough information in the Scriptures), so we choose not to reach a conclusion (we like to leave jumping to conclusions to others).
The closest thing to a direct explanation is John 14:26:
‘but the Advocate – the Holy Breath that the Father will send in my name – will teach you everything and remind you of everything that I’ve told you.’
Therefore, the paracletos is the Holy Spirit when it is sent in Jesus’ name.
Could the paracletos be a person?
That is strongly indicated by what Jesus said, as recorded at John 16:13-16. For there we read:
‘However, when that one (the Spirit of Truth) arrives, he will lead you to all truth. He won’t be speaking from himself; he’ll just tell you what he hears, and he will announce the things that are coming.
That one will glorify me, because he will receive things from me and announce them to you.’
So, yes, it does sound like this particular Holy Spirit could be a person. However, there are places in the Bible where good qualities (such as Wisdom) are also personified.
Therefore, it is difficult to reach a firm conclusion on whether Jesus was saying that this Spirit was another powerful individual. For there are other indications that it is the power (or Spirit) of Jesus.
Notice for example, Paul’s words at Romans 8:9, 10, where he wrote:
‘However, if God’s Breath lives in us, we aren’t fleshly but spiritual… and whoever doesn’t have the Spirit of the Anointed One doesn’t belong to him. So if the Anointed One is in you, your body is indeed dead through sin, but the spirit is alive through righteousness.’
It or Him?
It’s important to recognize that the Holy Spirit that was poured out upon Christians on Pentecost 33 CE was something quite different from the Holy Spirit that the Apostles already had. Remember that the scriptures tell us that Jesus had previously given them Holy Spirit when he sent them out to preach sometime before his death.
Also remember that the Apostles were able to heal and to cast out demons by the Spirit!
So, the paracletos is clearly not the same as the Holy Spirit that they had received earlier and which allowed them to perform great works prior to Pentecost!
Therefore, since Jesus’ Apostles already had God’s Spirit or Breath (as did many ancient Prophets and leaders), one might wonder if this Advocate (paracletos), which arrived on Pentecost of 33 CE, was the Spirit of Jesus, and that it performed in even more powerful ways on behalf of early Christians, literally calling out to God on their behalf and making them one with Jesus.
However, at Acts 1:4, this Spirit or Breath was said to have come from the Father, which leaves such a conclusion unclear.
Notice that Jesus gave a further description of this special Spirit at John 14:16, where he called it the Spirit of Truth. And at Acts 1:5, Jesus said that his disciples would be baptized in it.
So, similar to the visible outpouring of God’s Spirit (or Breath) on Jesus at his baptism (which appears to be the point of his anointing and receiving special powers), the outpouring of Holy Spirit on Pentecost appears to be the time when the disciples were anointed and given special powers.
It is also the time when they were born from above (see John 3:3).