28 August 2017

John 16:1-7

“…if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.” (v. 7)

Psalm: Psalm 69:1-21


In contrast to Luke's Gospel and Acts (normally thought to have one author), John's Gospel only uses the phrase 'Holy Spirit' a very few times. The 'Spirit of Truth' is one phrase that is unique to John (eg John 14:17; 16:13). And so is this word 'Advocate' (John's Gospel and first Epistle of John). The Greek word translated as Advocate (Comforter, Counsellor, Helper, Encourager) is 'parakletos'. The verb from which it derives ('parakaleo') means 'to call to one's side'. Whilst the verb often occurs in the New Testament (particularly in the letters of Paul), the noun comes only in John's Gospel. And outside the New Testament, noun and verb are used solely in legal and courtroom contexts.

It's also only John's Gospel which describes the Spirit's coming as dependent on Jesus' departure - a potentially puzzling notion, but one which offers an understanding of the Trinity in which each of the divine 'persons' 'gives place' to the other. In the biblical witness, Jesus points away from himself to the Father ("Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone" (Mark 10:18)) and the Father 'points' to Jesus ('This is my Son the beloved … listen to him" (Matthew 17:5, also Luke 9:35)). An artistic representation such as Rublev's icon of the Trinity depicts each 'person' pointing to the other. And Rowan Williams describes this understanding of God as Trinity: as one in which each 'person' joyfully cedes place to the others such that they are free to be what they are - which is to live most fully in the life of the others.

This offers a radical vision of the God as the life and meaning behind all reality, and of what it might mean for human relationships and communities to live in tune with that deepest reality: that fullest life and joy are somehow bound up with the life and joy of others.

To Ponder

  • Have you had someone 'give place' to you? If so, what kind of an experience was it?
  • Might there be dangers that 'giving place' could be interpreted as an unhealthy kind of 'self-sacrifice'?
  • What other resources (biblical and theological) could help avoid these?

Bible notes author

The Revd Carole Irwin

Carole is a presbyter in the Methodist Church. She has served in circuits in Folkestone and Bradford, and is currently Director of Studies at Wesley House, Cambridge.