“When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, that is the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify about Me, and you will testify also, because you have been with Me from the beginning.
– John 15:26-27, NAU
Jesus is still giving His farewell discourse. As far as His physical presence is concerned, He is about to leave the disciples. He comforts them (14:16-17) with the promise of the coming Spirit, the Helper. His message gives a strong basis for the comfort. He tells the disciples (14:25-26) how the Holy Spirit will teach them and bring what He had taught to their remembrance.
Then, Jesus challenges (15:1-11) the disciples to bear fruit. Christ will be glorified by this. Jesus speaks these truths to bring joy to their lives. Moreover, He commands (15:12-17) the disciples to love one another. This love and fruit bearing are interrelated. As they love each other and bear fruit, God will give them whatever they ask.
Having drawn his followers into the circle of love which he shared with the father (15:1-7), Jesus now invited them into the arena of conflict which he shared with the world. Ironically, they would be privileged to identify with Jesus not only by bearing much fruit but also by bearing up under much persecution.
Within this discussion about the world, Jesus speaks about the Helper in 15:26-27 and 16:8-11. He refers again to the Spirit of truth in 16:12-15. Here, we will comment on John 15:26-27.
An Ancient Debate
An ancient theological debate arises in connection with John 15:26. Both the eastern and western churches held that the clause “proceeds from the Father” refers to the source of the Spirit. However, from this point on, they divided. The eastern church held that the Spirit proceeds only from the Father; the western church maintained that the Spirit proceeds from both the Father and the Son. Walvoord (p. 15) summarizes the debate as follows:
With this debate in the background, we will turn now to an exposition of the Biblical text of John 15:26-27. A central point of the passage is that the Spirit of Truth, along with the disciples, will testify about Jesus.
When the Helper Comes
This is the third time in His discourse that Jesus has mentioned the Paraclete or Helper. With each mention, we gain additional understanding of the Paraclete’s ministry. The Greek title Paraclete can be translated by many different words. Zuck, who favors Helper as a translation, says (pp. 22-23):
Jesus says, “‘When the Helper comes.'” According to Robertson (p. 263), the clause is indefinite and means “‘whenever the Comforter comes.'” He indicates that this is an “Indefinite temporal clause with hotan and the second aorist active subjunctive of erchomai.” Even though the aorist tense is used, I believe that the coming of the Spirit is not limited to one occasion. The Spirit can come and come again.
Proceeds from the Father
With regard to this clause, we note the roles of the Persons of the Godhead. In addition we will discuss the debate that arises over whether Jesus referred to the source of the Spirit or the mission of the Spirit.
First, the roles of the the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are complementary. In John 14:16 it is the Father who “‘will give you another Helper.'” Then, in 14:26 Jesus says the Father will send the Helper “‘in My name.'” Now, Jesus says, “‘I will send'” the Helper to you “‘from the Father.'” This Helper is the Spirit of truth. Jesus says that this Spirit of truth “‘proceeds from [from] the Father.'” Keener (p. 1022) makes the following comments:
Second, another debate develops concerning the meaning of “proceeds from the Father.” The Eastern and Western churches debated whether the Father only or both the Father and the Son are the source of the Spirit. The other debate is over whether Jesus was referring to the source or the mission of the Spirit. As Morris (p. 683) says, “the debate hinges on whether the verse refers to the “eternal mutual relationships of the Persons of the trinity” or “the work the Spirit would do in this world as a continuation of the ministry of Jesus.”
Both Wescott (p.254-255) and Morris (pp. 683-684) favor the view that Jesus was referring to the mission of the Spirit. In support of their view they point out that the verb ekporeuetai can mean either proceeding from a source or proceeding on a mission. Although the verb is inconclusive, they think that the preposition para, which means “from the side of,” favors the idea of mission. Thus, in their view, Jesus seems to be saying that the Father sends the Spirit from His side to testify about Jesus.
According to Wescott (p. 255), Jesus would have used the preposition ek instead of para if he intended to speak of the source of the Spirit. To back this up, he points out that the Greek Fathers and the Creeds substituted ek for in their discussions. Despite this evidence, many commentators support the view that Jesus was referring to the source of the Spirit.
In my view we do not need to choose between the source and the mission of the Spirit. The Father and the Son are the source of the Spirit. Lenski (p. 1070) writes: “As the ray is like the sun, the stream like the source, so the Spirit is of the same essence with the Father because he proceeds from him.” With the western church, he holds that the Spirit proceeds from the Son as well.
In addition, the Spirit is on a mission to exalt Christ. We know that both the Father and the Son send Jesus forth. The Spirit goes forth from the side of the Father on a mission. That mission is made clear from what Jesus says next. He declares that the Spirit of Truth “‘will testify about Me.'”
Will Testify About Me
The Helper is the Spirit of Truth (compare 14:17 and 16:13). The Greek language allows for a variety of interpretations of the title. These interpretations include: (1) the Spirit is the source of truth, (2) the Spirit communicates truth, (3) truth is characteristic of the Spirit, and (4) the Spirit applies truth. All of these interpretations are valid, but in this passage “the Spirit who communicates truth” stands out.
The Spirit of truth will testify about Jesus. The world was hostile to Jesus. It remains hostile to Him and His cause today. The Spirit of truth will counter this hostility by testifying about Jesus, who is the Truth. The Spirit is a powerful prosecutor and persuader. He exalts Christ in a world that does not accept Him as the Lord and Savior of mankind.
Moreover, as verse 27 says, the disciples testify about Jesus as well. They are qualified to do this because they had been with Jesus. They were eye-witnesses to his life and ministry. Even before Pentecost, the disciples were witnesses. Then, on the Day of Pentecost, Jesus poured out the Spirit who, in turn, empowered the disciples to be witnesses to the whole world. Through their witness, they lifted up the resurrected Christ.
Jesus continues to comfort he disciples with the promise of the coming of the Spirit who is the Helper and the Spirit of Truth. The Spirit is fully authenticated because the Father and the Son have sent Him. The work of Jesus will be carried forward by the Spirit who is the Third Person of the Trinity. The Spirit of truth will testify about Jesus. Thus, the disciples need not fear the physical absence of Jesus. They can move forward in great confidence that the message of the cross will prevail.
For Further Study
Arndt, William F. and Gingrich, F. Wilbur. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. Cambridge: The University of Chicago Press, 1957.
Burge, Gary M. The Anointed Community: The Holy Spirit in the Johannine Tradition. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987.
Gordon, A. J. The Ministry of the Spirit. Minneapolis: Bethany Fellowship, 1964.
Hull, William E. The Broadman Bible Commentary: Commentary on John. Nashville: Broadman Press, 1970.
Keener, Craig. S. The Gospel of John, Vol. 2. Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 2003.
Lenski, R. C. H. St. John’s Gospel. Columbus: The Wartburg Press, 1942.
Morris, Leon. The Gospel According to John. Grand Rapids: Wm B. Eerdmans, 1971.
Robertson, A. T. Word Pictures in the New Testament, Vols. 1-6. Nashville: Broadman Press, 1930.
Walvoord, John F. The Holy Spirit. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1954.
Wescott, B. F. The Gospel According to St. John. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1971.
Copyright © 2004 By George M. Flattery