The Spirit-Paraclete in Johannine Tradition

In the Festschrift : Le Feu sur la terre. Mélanges offerts au Père Boris Bobrinskoy pour son 80e anniversaire. (Paris: Presses Saint-Serge, 2005), 9-19.

In addition to his dedicated service as pastor and teacher, Father Boris Bobrinskoy has made an invaluable contribution to the life of the Church and to Orthodox theology with his many studies on the person and work of the Holy Spirit. More than any other contemporary theologian, he has emphasized the intimate relation that exists between Christ and the Spirit within the Holy Trinity, both ad intra and ad extra, in the inner life of God and in the divine economy. One of the most significant outcomes of this reflection has been his development of a “pneumatological Christology.” This perspective sees in the Spirit the divine Person or hypostasis who “prepares, determines, constitutes and communicates” the mystery of Christ for the world’s salvation.1 In one of his early studies, he summarized this theme in the following way: “C’est au Christ que l’Esprit nous entraîne, mais c’est l’Esprit que nous donne le Christ, en une incessante Pentecôte d’amour dans laquelle nous vivons et don’t nous ne cessons d’implorer l’effusion sur l’Église, et par l’Église sur le monde.”2

My own interest in the mystery of the Holy Spirit, and my deep appreciation of Fr Boris’ insights on the subject, led me many years ago to dedicate a book to him titled Spirit of Truth. The Origins of Johannine Pneumatology (New York: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1991.) Some years later I returned to this theme, in an effort to work out a “Christological pneumatology” that demonstrates how Johannine tradition shaped its unique image of the Spirit-Paraclete by reference to the person of Jesus. Hence the title of the chapter in question, “Jesus Christ: The ‘Face’ of the Spirit.”3

In this contribution to Fr Boris’ Festschrift, I would like to build on those earlier studies, in an effort to indicate the process by which the Fourth Evangelist, working on the basis of underlying tradition, attributed to the Holy Spirit the titles – unique to his writings – “Spirit of Truth” and “Paraclete.” Recent chiastic analysis of the Gospel has demonstrated its overall integrity (over against theories of text displacement and later insertions or additions, including ch. 21) and the high probability that its canonical form derives from the work of a single author, whom Church tradition identifies with the Beloved Disciple.4 Yet that same analysis also indicates that the five Spirit-Paraclete logia of the Gospel’s Farewell Discourses (14:16-17; 14:25-26; 15:26-27; 16:7-11; and 16:12-15) likely circulated as independent units of tradition within the early Johannine community before the evangelist took them up, reworked them, and then adapted them to their present context.5

This consideration in particular raises the question as to why and on what grounds the evangelist came to denote the personal identity and the mission of the Holy Spirit by the titles “Spirit of Truth” and “Paraclete.” The evidence can be summarized as follows.

In the book Spirit of Truth we examined major strata of Old Testament historical and prophetic tradition to trace the development of the Hebrew concept of “Spirit” (rûach) from a capricious, occasional inspirational power to the indwelling Holy Spirit of God who reveals the divine will and regenerates the people (the nation or remnant), to lead them into the eschatological era of the Age to come.

From the earliest period and throughout Israel’s history, Spirit was known as the power that both inspires the Word of God and conveys that Word to the people, thereby serving as the instrument of God’s self-revelation. As the controlling force behind the fulfillment of Israel’s “sacred history,” Spirit exercised both a soteriological and a revelatory function. In later prophetic tradition, and especially in the Johannine writings (the Gospel and First Epistle), these two aspects of the Spirit’s work merge into a single role that teaches and sanctifies, reveals and saves. Revelation of the divine Word and its reception by faith both depend on the operation of the Spirit. By that operation, the Spirit leads the community of the faithful from sin and death to a regenerated existence, characterized by trusting obedience to the will of the Covenant Lord, and to life in the eschatological New Age.

Whereas Ezekiel and Jeremiah pointed toward the regenerative work of the Spirit as a future occurrence, the Johannine Gospel and Epistle, consonant with early Christian teaching, proclaim that the eschatological age has already been inaugurated by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The New Age is the age of the Church, in which the Spirit regenerates the faithful through baptism, sanctifies them by his indwelling presence, and guides them to eternal life by revealing to them “all the truth” (Jn 16:13-15). Through the presence and operation of the Spirit, then, the eschatological era of late Jewish expectation has become historicized in the life of the Christian community.

The author of 1 John (whether the evangelist or someone of the same “school”) denotes the revelatory and regenerative functions of the Spirit by the metaphorical terms chrisma (“unction” or “anointing,” 2:20,27) and sperma (“seed,” 3:9), both of which appear to have their setting in the Church’s baptismal practice. Chrisma designates the Spirit, received at baptism, which dwells within the believer as a teacher of alêtheia or truth, meaning the truth about Jesus as Christ and Son of God (see 2:18-27). Its function is directly parallel to that of the Spirit of Truth in the Farewell Discourses (Jn 14-16). Both indwell the believer (I Jn 2:27; Jn 14:17) and exercise a revelatory-teaching function (I Jn 2:27; Jn 14:26) described as leading into “all the truth” (I Jn 2:20f,27; Jn 14:26; 16:13). The content of their teaching is precisely “the truth,” that is, Christ and his revelation (I Jn 2:27, cf. 5:20; Jn 16:13; 14:26). Both the chrisma and the Spirit of Truth are bestowed by “the Holy One” (I Jn 2:20, God or Christ; cf. Jn 14:16,26; 15:26; 16:7) and are received by members of the believing community (according to I John, at baptism, cf. 2:27, to chrisma ho elabete ap’ autou; according to the Gospel, in the future, following Jesus’ death and resurrection).

But whereas the chrisma (like the pneuma or “spirit” of the Epistle) is depicted as an impersonal revelatory power of divine origin that dwells within the believer and within the Church, the Spirit of Truth of the Gospel is a personified figure who represents the risen Christ by continuing his revelatory activity within the Christian community. In the Epistle, the revelatory-teaching function of chrisma is identical to that of pneuma, which in 5:6ff is identified as the mediator of truth and the witness to that truth. By exercising this primary function of witness to the Truth within the Church and against “the world,” the realm of unbelief, the Spirit leads members of the community to bear witness themselves through their proclamation of God’s Word. Thereby the Spirit, exercising an essentially revelatory-teaching function, serves to perpetuate the prophetic activity known in Israel throughout its history and awaited by intertestamental Judaism as a characteristic mark of the eschatological age.

The revelatory-teaching function of chrisma / pneuma is essentially one with the regenerative work of sperma, which renders present and accessible within the community of faith the saving victory accomplished by Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. By submitting to the baptismal rite, with its “spiritual” anointing, the believer receives the gift of the sperma, which indwells (menein) him or her as a divine power that bestows new birth (I Jn 3:9; cf. Jn 3:5ff). This regenerative activity transforms the believer into a “child of God,” creating a profound spiritual union between divine and human existence (I Jn 3:9-10; cf. 5:1 and Jn 1:12). The symbolic expressions chrisma and sperma, thus denote the figure and function of pneuma, Spirit, which reveals the fullness of truth by bearing witness both to Christ and to the relationship of reciprocal indwelling that comes, by divine grace, to exist between God and human persons (I Jn 5:6ff; 3:24; 4:13).

In the Farewell Discourses of the Gospel, the work of the Spirit-Paraclete is almost exclusively revelatory or hermeneutical, unveiling to the disciples the full significance of Jesus’ own teaching. Yet this revelatory-teaching function embraces more than the words spoken by the historical Jesus; it is more than the mere proclamation or even exposition of those words. As the passage 16:12ff indicates, the Spirit receives from the risen Christ the plenitude of his revelation, which the disciples could not comprehend during the Lord’s earthly ministry. The Spirit draws individual believers and the gathered community into a continual meeting, an authentic communion, with Christ the Word. And thereby the Spirit serves as the instrument through which – or rather, through whom! – the risen Lord continues his revelatory activity within the Church.6

This emphasis on the revelatory-teaching function of the Spirit, so central to the Farewell Discourses, arose in part because of the historical situation of heresy and persecution that continued to threaten the Johannine community. The principal theme of the Discourses – the crisis sparked by Jesus’ apparent abandonment of his followers after the ascension – speaks to this very problem. This crisis was handled in three different ways in early Johannine circles. On the one hand, traditional expectation of the parousia directed the people’s hope toward the future coming in glory of the Son of Man (I Jn 2:28-3:3; Jn 14:3,18,28; 16:16). Yet Jesus was known be already present in the community of believers through his words: those who obey his commandments now abide in him and he (and the Father) abide in them (I Jn 2:24; Jn 14:20-24; 15:10). Finally, the question as to how the ascended Christ is present in the historical Church is answered by the uniquely Johannine teaching on the Spirit-Paraclete.

The figure of the Paraclete, identified in the Farewell Discourses with the Holy Spirit or Spirit of Truth, has long perplexed interpreters. In ancient Jewish tradition, a variety of “paracletic” figures served as intercessors, defenders or witnesses before God on behalf of believers.(( Numerous studies on the origins of the Paraclete figure in Judiasm and Hellenistic sources appeared in the middle of the last century.  See especially N. Johansson, ‘Parakletoi’. Vorstellungen von Fürsprechern für die Menschen vor Gott in der ATlichen Religion, im Spätjudentum und im Urchristentum, Lund, 1940; M.-F Berrouard, “Le Paraclet, défenseur du Christ devant la conscience du croyant (Jean 16:8-11),” RSpt 33 (1949), 361-389; G. Bornkamm, “Der Paraklet im Johannesevangelium,” in Festschrift für R. Bultmann, Stuttgart, 1949; and O. Betz, Der Paraklet, Leiden/Kôln, 1963.)) How, interpreters of John’s Gospel asked themselves, could the evangelist attribute the title “Paraclete” to the Spirit while failing to depict the Spirit in the traditional paracletic role of intercessor or advocate on behalf of the faithful before the heavenly court?

The problem lies in the fact that scholars have sought the prototype of the Spirit-Paraclete in paracletic figures of non-Christian origin rather than in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Too little attention has been paid to the crucial point that I John (which clearly embodies very primitive Johannine tradition) describes the risen Christ as parakletos, the Paraclete, who serves as the heavenly intercessor before God (the Father) on behalf of the faithful. “If anyone sins,” the author declares, “we have a Paraclete (Advocate, Intercessor or Witness) with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous (one); and he is the expiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but for the sins of the whole world” (I Jn 2:1-2). Here the risen Christ assumes the traditional paracletic role of advocate or counselor in a court of law. It is a forensic role that is attributed to him elsewhere in the New Testament. In Hebrews 9:24, for example, Christ has entered into the heavenly sanctuary to appear before God on our behalf (hyper hymôn); and in 7:25 the author declares, “He is forever able to save those coming through him to God, for he forever lives to intercede on behalf of them.” This emphasis on Christ’s intercessory function is also found in Rom 8:34, “Christ Jesus, who died and indeed was raised up, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes on behalf of us.” (In Rom 8:26f, however, it is the Spirit who intercedes, but in this case the intercession is a cultic rather than a forensic act.) The Fourth Gospel likewise attributes this intercessory role to Christ, again within the Farewell Discourses. Jesus prays to the Father on behalf of his followers (14:13f; 16:23f; 17:9-11; cf. 18:8f), and here the cultic and forensic aspects of his intercession tend to merge. The most basic image of Jesus as “Paraclete,” however, remains that of I John 2, where he appears as the “heavenly Paraclete” or “heavenly Intercessor” before God.

In John 14:16, the Spirit is identified as allos parakletos, “another (or the other) Paraclete.” As such, his function is primarily to bear witness on behalf of the faithful, not before God and the heavenly court, but before earthly adversaries of the Johannine community: the Antichrists of I John 2 and the persecuting religious authorities of John 16:1 (cf. Mark 13:11). Jesus’ followers, like their Lord, are on trial, accused by the Adversary, Satan, and condemned by the world and its unbelief. Therefore the Spirit’s paracletic work, like that of Christ, combines the roles of teacher and intercessor. To defend the faithful, the Spirit conveys to them “all the truth” (Jn 14:26; 16:13), a Truth that will serve as their defense, but also as their own personal witness, to and within an unbelieving world. This is expressed in the central “Spirit-Paraclete” passage of John 15:26, “When the Paraclete comes, whom I will sent to you from the Father, (namely) the Spirit of Truth, he will bear witness to me; and you also are witnesses, because you have been with me from the beginning.”

This conflation of roles common to both Christ and the Spirit leads to an important conclusion. As specifically Johannine teaching concerning Christ and the Spirit took shape in the early years prior to the Gospel’s composition, the title of Paraclete was transferred from the heavenly Advocate, the “Christ-Paraclete,” to the Holy Spirit. This occurred primarily because of their common role as witnesses, who defend the faithful by conveying to them saving truth and defending them before judgment. As the heavenly Paraclete, Christ serves the faithful as their hilasmos, their expiation, who obtains forgiveness on their behalf before the heavenly tribunal. As the earthly Paraclete, the Spirit serves believers as their martyr, their advocate and witness, who defends them against the accusations of unbelievers, while he makes of them as well “martyrs” or witnesses to the Truth.

The revelatory activity of the Spirit within the earthly community was also conceived as complementary to the intercession offered by the ascended Christ within the celestial court. By conveying the truth about the person and work of Jesus, the eternal Son of the Father, the Spirit equips the faithful with what Pauline tradition would call “the whole armor of God.” “Having girded your loins with truth,” the apostle admonishes, “take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Eph 6:13-17). Thus armed, members of the believing community are equipped to face the hour of persecution “when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God” (Jn 16:2). The truth that the Spirit communicates, then, not only instructs; it also defends. Accordingly, the evangelist could easily assimilate the Spirit’s role as teacher of Truth to his role as Paraclete.

Expectation of the parousia within the early Johannine church had long focused on the return of Christ as the glorified Son of Man (1:51; 5:25-29; 6:40,53f; 14:3; 16:16,22; cf. 17:24). Various Jewish apocalyptic themes had combined during the intertestamental period to form the Christian expectation of the coming Son of Man as world judge.7 In the minds of Johannine Christians, this image of their Lord as the heavenly Judge of the endtime corresponded well with the image of the risen Christ as their Witness, Advocate and Vindicator before the heavenly court, and it was an easy matter to combine the two into a single object of expectation and longing. As Son of Man and as Paraclete, “Jesus Christ the righteous (one)” will bring judgment on sin and unbelief, as he exonerates and glorifies those who have lived in obedience to his commandments. Accordingly, the community directed its hope towards the coming from heaven of Christ as both Paraclete and Son of Man, who would vindicate the righteous and condemn the sinful and unbelieving world.8

This is the theme that lies behind the Paraclete-logion John 16:7-11.9 In the framework of Johannine “realized eschatology,” the role of judgment to be executed by the eschatological world-judge was transferred from the ascended Lord to the Spirit, the divine presence and power at work in the Church and in the world during this present age. Jesus’ departure and apparent abandonment of his followers is integral to the entire process of salvation-history, since it is only by ascending to his Father that he can send the Spirit-Paraclete to exercise judgment upon the world. “And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin, righteousness and judgment…” (16:8).

Yet the primary title that describes the Spirit’s activity is the one that first occurs in the dualistic passage I John 4:6. Here the author summons his “little children” to discern between the deceivers (the Antichrists) and those who witness faithfully to the truth, and to discern as well between their respective guiding spirits, the pneuma tês planês or spirit of deception, and the pneuma tês alêtheias or spirit of truth.10 As the passages Jn 14:26f and 16:13-15 demonstrate, the Spirit was known within Johannine circles to be the ultimate authority behind both Jesus’ own words (Jn 3:34) and the proclamation of the believing community (I Jn 4:1-6; 5:6-9). The evangelist very appropriately took up the ancient title “spirit of truth” and attributed it to God’s Spirit, the Holy Spirit, in order to express the Spirit’s function as “teacher of truth.” As Jesus is the very embodiment of Truth (Jn 14:6), so the Spirit is the divine presence within the Church who conveys that Truth to the faithful, for their defense against unbelief and persecution, but also to equip them for their witness to the world (Jn 15:27).

The fundamental activity of the Spirit in Johannine teaching, therefore, is to guide the faithful into the Truth, to reveal and thus to reactualize within the believing community the saving work of Jesus Christ. In order to describe this activity, the evangelist assimilated the function of the Spirit as Paraclete, modeled on the intercessory role of the Christ-Paraclete and the forensic mission of the coming Son of Man, to the function of the Spirit of Truth. This assimilation occurred quite naturally, since the revelatory work of the Spirit as mediator of God’s Word was conceived (already within the Old Testament) as an essentially forensic activity. By revealing the Word of God, the Spirit calls the world to judgment: a crisis which involves the decision to accept or reject Jesus as Christ and Savior. This is his function as Spirit of Truth; yet it is at the same time a “paracletic” work.

What unites the judging activity of the Spirit as Paraclete (Jn 16:7ff) and his revelatory activity as Spirit of Truth (Jn 16:12ff), then, is the common theme of witness. By revealing the fuller meaning of Jesus’ words, and by pronouncing judgment upon the world because of its unbelief, the Spirit carries out his most basic activity: he bears witness to the truth embodied by Christ, a truth that in turn makes witnesses of those who receive it. The logion John 15:26f, therefore, identifies the Paraclete with the Spirit of Truth, depicts the Spirit-Paraclete as the divine witness to Jesus Christ, and affirms that those who have been with Jesus “from the beginning” will themselves serve as witnesses: by means of the testimony of their teaching and preaching, but also through their steadfastness in the face of gathering persecution. The combining in 15:26 of the originally distinct roles of the Spirit is particularly evident when the verse is set out so as to highlight its chiastic structure. A literal translation of the Greek gives us this:

A : When he comes,
   B : the Paraclete
      C : whom I will send to you from the Father,
         D : (namely) the Spirit of Truth,
      C’: who from the Father comes forth,
   B’: that one (the Paraclete)
A’: will bear witness to me.

As he composed the material that makes up chapter 14 of the Gospel, the evangelist emphasized a function of the Spirit that does not appear in the logia of chapters 15 and 16. Because his concern was to console the faithful of his congregation in their struggle against unbelief, persecution and disunity, he began the Discourses by depicting the Spirit as “Comforter.” In 14:16 and 26, the parakletos exercises not only the forensic function of Advocate or Witness, but also the ministry of consolation (cf. Isaiah 40:1). Like many Johannine technical terms, the expression “paraclete” bears several meanings.11 Basically, however, the term as a title for the Spirit signifies the revelatory-teaching function of the “earthly Witness,” whose activity complements that of the Christ-Paraclete, the “heavenly Witness.” The Spirit of Truth is therefore designated the “other Paraclete,” who defends the person of Christ and the belief of the faithful against the unbelief – the “lie” – of a hostile world. He receives “the things” of Christ (Jn 16:14), the past revelation of the incarnate Word and the continuing revelation of the ascended and glorified Lord, and he “proclaims” or reveals them within the community of faith. The activity of the Christ-Paraclete and that of the Spirit-Paraclete thereby constitute a single life-giving ministry on behalf of the Church.

To a certain degree the unexpressed ecclesiology of the Gospel is implicit in its pneumatology. The revelatory-soteriological work of the Spirit is carried on within the new temple of the Church (cf. Jn 2:19-21; 7:37-39; I Jn 2:18-20; 5:1-12). Although the term ekklêsia appears in neither the Gospel nor First Epistle of John, the Church as the gathered community of faith, where true worship and proclamation take place, is clearly addressed by both writings. This is evident from the terms of address employed in the Epistle (cf. esp. 2:12ff); and it has become a commonplace among exegetes that the disciples addressed by the Farewell Discourses represent the community as a whole.

Maintaining continuity with his image in Hebrew prophetic tradition, the Johannine Spirit creates and sustains the Church as a community of faith, a koinônia or communion of true belief and corresponding ethical conduct (cf. I.1:3). Apart from this communion there is no participation in the new life revealed and bestowed by the Spirit. This does not mean, however, that the Spirit is confined to a particular sanctuary or institution. For the community that he creates is both an historical and a transcendent reality, whose worship “in Spirit and truth” (Jn 4:23f) takes place in the new Temple of Christ’s Body. In the life of the believing community the historical and the transcendent, time and eternity, merge and become one. The Spirit unites the worshiping Church with the events of Easter/Pascha and with the future Parousia by rendering present the “words” of Jesus Christ, and by reactualizing his ministry of salvation through the regeneration of the believer to new, eschatological existence (Jn 3:3-10). At the same time, the Spirit unites the community with the eternal intercession of Christ, the heavenly Paraclete. (These two aspects of the Spirit’s operation are symbolized liturgically by the Anamnesis and Epiklesis of the Church’s Eucharistic liturgies.) In Johannine thought, the Church as a community of faith in communion with God is to be found where worship “in Spirit and Truth” – that is, in the Holy Spirit and in Christ who is the Truth – unites believers with the historical and celestial ministry of Jesus and creates with the Father a relationship of mutual indwelling and mutual love.

To summarize, we can make the following points. Although different spirit traditions stand behind the Farewell Discourses and the rest of the Gospel, the Evangelist recognized in the “Holy Spirit,” the “Spirit of Truth” and the “(other) Paraclete” the one Spirit of God. In this respect he stands in direct continuity with Old Testament prophetic teaching. The Oriental dualism that left its imprint upon Qumran theology is also evident in the Johannine concepts of “light/darkness,” “life/death,” “truth/lie,” etc. In the Fourth Gospel, however, even more than in the First Epistle, the traditional dualism has been radically modified by the breaking into this present age of eschatological judgment. A “last day” or final consummation, according to certain strands of Gospel tradition, is still awaited (e.g., Jn 5:25-29). Nevertheless, participation in “eternal life” has become a present possibility through the teaching and regenerative activity of the Spirit within the community of faith, the Church. Satan, the Adversary, the ruler of this world, has been judged, sentenced and cast out, while the Son of God, the Advocate, the “coming One” whose hour has already come, has been vindicated and glorified. The cosmic struggle between the Spirit of Truth and the Spirit of Deceit has ended, its outcome having been decided by the divine verdict that vindicated Jesus Christ. Thus the present age, in which the Spirit dwells within the Church to reveal the fullness of truth about Jesus Christ and his teaching, is already in a real if anticipatory sense the age of the Kingdom of God (cf. Jn 3:3ff, the only Johannine passage that refers explicitly to the basileia tou theou).

In both the Fourth Gospel and the First Epistle, the revelatory and soteriological aspects of the Spirit’s work are essentially inseparable, although in each writing different titles are used to designate each aspect. In the Epistle, the revelatory function of the Spirit is attributed to charisma (anointing), whereas the regenerative role belongs to sperma (seed). Both figures are, by nature and function, one with the pneuma (Spirit), which bears witness to the truth embodied by Jesus Christ, a truth that guides the faithful to eternal life. The same may be said for the pneumatology of the Gospel. The Spirit-logia of the Farewell Discourses unite paracletic and revelatory functions to produce the image of the Spirit-Paraclete. It is the function of the Spirit of Truth to bear witness to the words of Christ and thereby continue Christ’s revelatory activity within the Church. He does so not simply by repeating the words of the historical Jesus, but by rendering the glorified Christ present through the preaching and teaching of the community. Yet it is this same Spirit who, as the mysterious divine breath that brings into existence a new creation, regenerates human existence through the sacrament of baptism and indwells the “child of God” as an inexhaustible wellspring of Living Water.

German Protestant theologians, particularly of Lutheran tradition, have tended during the past decades to identify the Spirit with “the power of the proclamation of the Word in the Christian community.”12 In light of the presentation of the Spirit, and particularly of the Spirit-Paraclete, in Johannine writings, this is a highly inadequate answer to the question of the relation between Spirit and Word. On the one hand, the Spirit is never identified in biblical sources with either the teaching of Jesus or the proclamation of the Church. Rather, the Spirit is the inspiration behind that Word and the one by whom that Word is revealed and interpreted within the Christian community. On the other hand, this conflation of Spirit and Word ignores other biblical evidence, from Genesis 1 through the Johannine prologue, that represents Spirit and Word as independent, personified figures, each with a distinct role in God’s work of creation and redemption. In the Farewell Discourses, the Spirit is clearly personified as the One who “proceeds from the Father” (15:26) and is “sent” into the world by the Father and the Son. The purpose of his sending is to enable him to reveal the person of Christ the Word to the community of faith. The Spirit, then, exercises a specific, many faceted ministry: to reveal, to sanctify, to defend and to save. Rather than identifying the Spirit with the Word (the Logos of God, together with his teaching), it is more appropriate on biblical grounds to use the metaphor of St Irenaeus of Lyon, who in the late second century spoke of Christ and the Spirit as “the two hands of God.”

An adequate pneumatology, in other words, must take seriously the biblical witness to every aspect of the Spirit’s work. According to Johannine teaching, the Spirit descended and abided on or indwelt the historical Jesus, investing him and his words with divine authority (Jn 3:34). Bestowed upon the disciples by the risen Christ, the Spirit dwells within the Christian community, the Church, to reveal the Truth and to make of believers witnesses to that Truth by their faith and acts (Jn 20:22; 14:17,26; 15:27; I Jn 2:20,27; 3:24; 4:13.). Received through the sacrament of baptism, the Spirit effects a new birth of divine regeneration, rendering the believer “a child of God” (Jn 3:5ff; 1:12f; I Jn 5:1f). The Spirit creates and sustains the Church as a community of faith, love and witness, where true worship is offered through the Son to the Father (Jn 20:19ff; I Jn 4:13-17 and passim; Jn 4:23f; 14:13f). In the Church, the Spirit renders historical the eschatological age of Jewish expectation by actualizing the saving power of Christ’s victory in the community’s own “victory of faith” (Jn 16:7-15; I Jn 5:4). As the “other Paraclete” the Spirit convicts the world of unbelief while vindicating Christ and his followers (Jn 16:7-11; I Jn 5:1-12). As the “Spirit of Truth” he renders Christ and his Word present in the preaching and teaching of the earthly Church, while creating a relationship of mutual indwelling between God and his “children” (Jn 14:26; 16:13-15; I Jn 27; 3:24; 4:13). As “Comforter” he consoles and protects Christian believers in times of persecution and heresy (Jn 14:17; 16:1-11; I Jn 2:18-27). The Spirit descends upon Jesus at the moment of his baptism, investing him with divine authority both to be and to proclaim the Word of God (Jn 1:32f; 3:34-36); and he similarly equips the faithful with authority to defend and proclaim saving truth within the Church and for the world’s salvation (Jn 15:26f; I Jn 2:18-27; 4:1-6). Finally, as the “earthly Witness” the Spirit complements the saving work of the “heavenly Witness,” the Christ-Paraclete, by continuing the revelatory activity of the risen Lord throughout the present age of the Church and into the last Age of the Kingdom: “I shall ask the Father, and he will give you another Paraclete to be with you ‘into the age’ (eis ton aiôna), the Spirit of Truth” (Jn 14:16f).

This leads us back to the statement by Father Bobrinskoy noted at the outset of this article. To conclude a study appropriately titled “The Holy Spirit, Life of the Church,” he declared: “The Spirit leads us to Christ; yet Christ bestows upon us this same Spirit, in a ceaseless Pentecostal outpouring of love. We live in his love, and we never cease to beg God to pour out that love upon the Church, and through the Church, upon the world.” This is the essence of the evangelist John’s teaching on the Paraclete and Spirit of Truth.

The Spirit, in Johannine thought and experience, may be described as the mode of God’s presence and activity within the individual Christian life and within the collective body of the Church. Yet the Spirit is more than this, more than an aspect of God’s being or activity ad extra. As the Spirit-Paraclete, this mysterious reality is personal, hypostatic. Proceeding from the inner life of God, he enters the world in order to render present the glorified Christ, the eternal Son and Word. In his role as Spirit of Truth, he invests both the revelation of Jesus and the proclamation of the Church with divine authority, with the power to heal and to save. Thereby he exercises what may be properly called a hermeneutic function, by inspiring both the biblical writings and the interpretation of those writings within the Church. It is the Spirit, therefore, who serves as the tie, the vital link, that unites each generation of Christians to the historical origins of their faith.

As the divine authority behind all true witness to God, both of Christ and of the apostolic authors, the Spirit creates and preserves the indissoluble bond between the words of Jesus and the words about Jesus. Stated in other terms, without the Spirit, neither the teaching of the “Jesus of history” nor the proclamation of the Church which bears witness to the “Christ of faith” would possess more than historical interest. For it is the Spirit who renders of both Jesus and Scripture “the Word of God.”

  1. See his article “The Holy Spirit—in the Bible and in the Church,” The Ecumenical Review 41/3 (1989), 357-362, and his series of articles in Communion du Saint-Esprit, Abbaye de Bellefontaine (Spiritualité orientale no. 56), pages 19-70. []
  2. Literally, “The Spirit leads us to Christ, yet it is the Spirit who gives Christ to us in a ceaseless Pentecost of love, in which we live and pray constantly that it be poured out upon the Church, and by the Church upon the world.”  “Le Saint-Esprit, Vie de l’Église,” originally published in Contacts 55 (1966/3), 197; reprinted in Communion du Saint-Esprit, quote p. 365. []
  3. In Scripture in Tradition. The Bible and Its Interpretation in the Orthodox Church, New York: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2001, pp. 195-210. []
  4. See especially Peter F. Ellis, The Genius of John. A Composition-Critical Commentary on the Fourth Gospel, Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1984; his article “Inclusion, Chiasm, and the Division of the Fourth Gospel,” St Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly 42/3-4 (1999), 269-338; J. Breck, The Shape of Biblical Language. Chiasmus in the Scriptures and Beyond, New York, St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1994, pp. 191-241; and ibid., Scripture in Tradition, esp. chs. 5 and 6. []
  5. J. Breck, The Shape of Biblical Language, pp. 213-229.  Hans Windisch, “Die fünf johanneische Parakletsprüche,” Festgabe für A. Jülicher, Tübingen, 1927, pp. 110-137, first argued for the original independence of these logia.  His contention that the sayings were of pre-Christian origin did not gain wide acceptance, and little attention has since been paid to the likelihood that they arose in the context of Johannine preaching as elements of a Spirit-Paraclete pneumatology shaped primarily by Old Testament and intertestamental Jewish writings as well as by the post-Pentecostal experience of the evangelist and his community. []
  6. This does not mean that the risen Christ communicates new teachings, new dogmas, to the Church throughout the course of its history.  “All the truth” was present in his person during his earthly ministry, although it was accessible to the disciples only to a limited degree.  After Pentecost, however, the Spirit unveils the full significance of Jesus’ teachings, as he inspires the writing of canonical gospels and letters, and directs the Church in its ever deeper understanding of the mystery of Christ, a mystery that will be given expression in the form of orthodox doctrine. []
  7. The most significant influence on this development is late Jewish apocalyptic literature, especially the books of Daniel (ch.7) and the Similitudes of Ethiopic Enoch (I Enoch, chs. 37-71). []
  8. G. Bornkamm, “Der Paraklet im Johannesevangelium,” discusses the many parallels between Old Testament paracletic figures and the apocalyptic Son of Man. []
  9. There is speculation among exegetes that this passage, 16:7-11, might originally have contained only verse 8, in reference not to the Spirit, but to the Christ-Paraclete as the coming Son of Man. []
  10. In Spirit of Truth we have discussed the development of the title throughout Old Testament prophetic tradition, especially in Jewish Wisdom literature and the Dead Sea Scrolls.  The passage I Jn 4:6 is the only such dualistic reference to the Spirit in the New Testament.  It was clearly influenced by writings such as the Manual of Discipline and other pre-Christian Jewish texts, including the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs.  These in turn had received the tradition of the two opposing spirits from Zoroastrian sources, probably filtered through Chaldean teachings during the time of the Exile. []
  11. Consider the ambiguous term anôthen of Jn 3:3,7 which can mean either “again/anew” or “from above”; or pneuma in the same passage, that can signify “spirit,” but also “breath” or “wind.” []
  12. Most notably, R. Bultmann, Das Evangelium des Johannes, Göttingen, 1941 (1964), pp. 426, 432, 442ff and 475-477, where the Spirit tends to be identified with the Word.  Similarly, E. Schweitzer, art. pneuma, in Kittel, Theologisches Wörterbuch zum Neuen Testament, VI, pp. 387-453, who describes the Spirit as “die Kraft der Verkündigung Jesu als des Erlösers, in der die Gotteswelt dem Menschen begegnet” (p. 442), and holds that the words of the Paraclete are only those of the historical Jesus. []