Holy Spirit in John’s Gospel Essay

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Holy Spirit in John’s Gospel

The person of the Spirit is mentioned 12 times  in Matthew’s Gospel Ghost, 6 times in Mark, Luke refers to him15 times  but John  does so 17 times. With these relatively small differences why is John’s gospel considered to be in someway more Spirit orientated than the writings of the evangelists?

The answer lies in part in the ‘Signs’, events which the Synoptics refer to as ‘might works’. Each of these ‘Signs’ is accompanied by an explanatory word. There are none of the long addresses to the crowds found in the other gospels such as the Sermon on the Mount[1], nor is there a single parable. There are however discourses on the subjects of life, light, truth, judgment, Christ’s person and his relationship to his father. John follows his own chronology and description of the Incarnate Christ.

 He records material not found elsewhere such as the Spirit’s work in regeneration as in  the encounter and dialogue  with Nicodemus[2]in which the need for a spiritual rebirth is carefully explained and his meeting with the Samaritan woman[3] in which Jesus stresses the need for true worship

In 7 v 37 as pointed out by Donald Gurthrie[5] he refers early on to the promised outpouring of the spirit after the glorification of the Messiah as well as including 5 sayings about the Spirit not mentioned elsewhere.[6] It is uncertain as to whether the epistles of John were written before or after the gospel, though Leon Morris cites J.A.T Robinson as arguing for a date as early as 60 -65 C.E.[7], but in both similar ideas come through . In 1 John 2 v 20 there can be seen the fulfillment of the promise of the Spirit outlined so strongly in John. In writing to the church he declares as fact:-[8]

You have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth. John omits much that the other evangelists felt ought to be included such as the baptism of Jesus, the temptations and the transfiguration. This may in part be due to timing – John is thought to have written his gospel long after the other three, so these stories would have already been well known. John is seeking to expand on what was already known.

R.G.V. Tasker in his commentary  [9] quotes Clement of Alexandria :- Last of all John, perceiving that all the external facts had been made plain in  the Gospels, being urged by his friends and inspired by the Spirit, composed a spiritual Gospel.

R.G.V.Tasker points out that this is usually interpreted as meaning that while the others recorded the bare facts the value of John’s gospel lies not in the facts recorded, but in the interpretation of them, and, as can be seen form his epistle, but also elsewhere in the New Testament the promises regarding the Spirit related in John were manifested within the infant church.

R.H Lightfoot in his commentary [10]points how each section of the gospel is connected in some way to one of the great Jewish feasts and so John is asking his readers to see Jesus as being linked to these festivals, and in particular , as the Lamb of God,[11] connected with the idea of Passover. He claims[12] that in John’s view all the feasts point towards the coming of God and in the ‘coming’ they are fulfilled.

The Presence and Promise of the Spirit

The Spirit becomes easier for humanity to understand. It is visible in the form of a dove that can be seen by all as witnessed to by John the Baptist:- I saw the Spirit descend as a dove from heaven and it remained on him. I  myself did not know him; but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain’ this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I have seen and borne witness that this  is the Son of God.[18]

Metzger and Coogan[19]point out that this does not mean that the association of Jesus and the Holy Spirit began at this point, a sort of adoption by God, but state that it was rather  that John ‘saw in the baptism the epiphany  of the preexisting Son’ as is clear if on ereads the introductory words to the gospel ‘In the beginning was the Word …the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us’.[20]

John sees the Spirit as in some way authenticating Jesus , again as pointed out by Metzger and Coogan, this time using the evidence from John’s first epistle[21], which after all cannot be entirely separated from this gospel, having been written by the same  author and containing similar ideas, and where we are told that the Spirit testifies.

Then there is the power of the Spirit manifested in many miracles as at the wedding in Cana.[22], as had long been promised by the Old Testament prophets, such as Isaiah[23]  but also explained on many occasions, and using various analogies, by Jesus himself.

In John 14 v 26 he is promised as a ‘Comforter, Counselor, Helper, Intercessor, Advocate, Strengthener, Standby’.[24] In John this Spirit, like God in the Old Testament, is limitless.[25]

In John 16 v 13 he is described as a guide into truth or the Spirit of Truth. Earlier, in 6 v 63, the Spirit is described as the giver of life, which links back to John 3, especially verse 8 which mentions those born of the Spirit.  The Holy Spirit, his work and power, is interrelated with both the Father and the Son in the work of salvation and the bringing into being of the kingdom of God. Although the phrase ‘The Holy Trinity’ was a long way in the future, this is a rather different idea about God than was traditional in Judaism.

Perhaps here is the very beginnings of the church as a separate entity rather than as a sect of Judaism. This is shown clearly in the synoptic descriptions of the baptism of Christ where the voice of the Father is mentioned, as is the presence of Jesus and the descent of the Spirit[26], but is also present in John’s narrative. The Father loves the Son in communion with the Holy Spirit and the Son loves the Father in communion with the Holy Spirit as in John the Baptist’s description[27], but also John 16  v 5-8 where he explains to the disciples that he is soon returning to his father, but that the Holy Spirit will come :-

If I go I will send him to you. And when he comes he will convince the  world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin……because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father[28]

Tasker in his commentary comes to the conclusion that though it is difficult to separate history and doctrine in any of the gospels if one compares John with the synoptic gospels , and especially perhaps with that of Luke, the avowed purpose of the writers of the first three is historical and that of John doctrinal.[29] The reason for this is that the earlier writers included facts which were later interpreted by the church, whereas John, writing so much later, can be said to ‘review the facts in the light of their interpretation’.

Hunter points out for instance how, with regard to the Holy Spirit, John seems to amplify what the others have already said on the same subject.[30] In other words John was seeking to show the eternal value of what had occurred when the historic Jesus, the Word of God, stepped out on the human stage. He states his purpose clearly in chapter 20 v 30, 31:- Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.[31]

One important doctrinal point he included was that the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God, given to Jesus at the very beginning of his ministry, was also given to the disciples, a Spirit that would rest not on one individual as in the Old Testament, but on all true followers of Christ. John 14 v 15, 16, 17a:-[32]

If you love me, you will obey what I command, and I will ask the Father, and  he will give you another Counsellor to be with you for ever – the Spirit of Truth.

The Greek word for ‘another’ here is ‘Allos’ which can mean a numerical difference and another of the same sort.  Lightfoot[33]points out that this means someone who is no less a helper than Christ had been to them.  The analogy is from the law courts and refers to a defending council, an attorney, as opposed to the accuser.  But this is to be a permanent presence – not just for a short period when in trouble or even for a few years . Compare this with John 13 v 33:- ‘My children, I will be with you only a little longer.’[34].

The presence of the Spirit with them will give them the same relationship with the Father that Jesus has, as R Alastair Campbell points out in his overview of the New Testament.[35]Hunter in his commentary describes him as the Spirit who gives knowledge of divine reality.[36] So important was this teaching about the Spirit that it may have been in circulation as a separate document before John included it in his gospel as suggested by Metzger and Coogan.[37]

The Greek word ‘Parakeltos’ is one who is called alongside as in Job where it is used to describe his comforters. Among Jewish writers, according to NetBible a good deed was called a paraclete as was the sin offering.[38]It was used by Philo in his ‘Life of Moses’ of Joseph when he forgives his brothers ‘they had no one else as paraclete or intercessor.’[39] Net Bible also quotes Dr. J. Hastings who thought that ‘the Paraclete was sent to cure the unbelief or half-belief of the disciples.’[40]

The conclusion of the Net Bible writer is that there seems to be no English word that really covers the full meaning of ‘Paraklete’ which is why the Amplified Bible verse already quoted uses not one word but 7. These were new ideas. Judaism was so centered upon the oneness of God that God in three persons, yet all equally God, was, and is, difficult to describe. His role is almost as difficult for writers and commentators to put into words.

The Net Bible asks if the Paraclete is the successor or the substitute for Christ, and concludes that He is both and neither because, although the historic successor in the sense that he came after him chronologically, he was not his successor  in the sense that Christ ceased to act in the church. He is the spiritual substitute for Christ’s physical presence, but only so that He can reveal  the actual presence of Christ in Spirit.  John makes it clear that his work will be centered upon Jesus and his teaching:-[41]

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