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Part Four: The Holy Spirit and Jesus the Son in John

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Part Four: The Holy Spirit and Jesus the Son in John

(Click here to see the overview of this six-part article.)

The explicit connection drawn between the Spirit and the Son by Jesus’ reference to the Spirit as “another Paraclete” (14:16-17) is fleshed out throughout the Gospel in its parallel descriptions of Jesus and the Spirit. Practically everything that is said about the Paraclete Holy Spirit is also said about Jesus Christ.

  • The Son is a “Paraclete” (14:16; cf. 1 John 2:1); the Holy Spirit is another “Paraclete” (14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7).

  • God “gave” the Son (3:16); the Father “will give” the Holy Spirit (14:16).

  • The Son was “with” (meta, meth’) his disciples (3:22; 6:3; 7:33; 11:54; 13:33; 14:9; 15:27; 16:4; 17:12; 18:2); after the Son left, the Holy Spirit was going to be “with” (meth’) the disciples (14:16).

  • The Son spoke to the disciples while he “remained” with them (14:25); the Holy Spirit will “remain” with the disciples after the Son is no longer physically with them (14:17).

  • Unbelievers do not “receive” the Son (1:11; 5:43), but believers do “receive” him (John 1:12; 13:20); unbelievers also do not “receive” the Holy Spirit (14:17) but believers do “receive” him (John 7:39; 20:22).

  • The world will not “see” the Son any longer, while believers will “see” him (14:19); the world does not “see” the Holy Spirit (14:17).

  • The world did not “know” the Son (1:10; 16:3) while believers do “know” the Son (10:14; 17:3; 1 John 2:3-4); the world does not “know” the Holy Spirit, while believers do “know” the Holy Spirit (14:17).

  • The Son is “the Truth” (14:6); the Holy Spirit is “the Truth” (1 John 5:6; cf. John 14:17; 15:26; 16:13; 1 John 4:6).

  • The Father “sent” the Son (e.g., 14:24; 15:21; 16:5); the Father “will send” the Holy Spirit (14:26, cf. 14:24); the Son “will send” the Holy Spirit (15:26, cf. 15:21; 16:7, cf. 16:5). Notice that in all three of the references to the “sending” of the Holy Spirit, there is in the immediate context a reference to the “sending” of the Son.

  • The Son came in the Father’s name (5:43); the Holy Spirit came in the Son’s name (14:26).

  • The Son “taught” (6:59; 7:14, 28; 8:2, 20; 18:20); the Holy Spirit “will teach” (14:26).

  • The Son told the disciples “all things” that the Father said (15:15); the Holy Spirit will remind the disciples of “all things” that the Son said (14:26).

  • The Son came “from the Father” (16:28); the Holy Spirit came “from the Father” (15:26).

  • The Son “testifies” to the truth and to himself (3:11; 4:44; 5:31; 7:7; 8:14, 18; 13:21; 18:37); the Holy Spirit “testifies” to the Son (15:26).

  • The Son will execute “judgment” of all people (5:22, 27, 30; 8:16); the Holy Spirit will prepare people by convicting the world about “judgment” (16:8, 11).

  • The Son “speaks” (e.g., 16:1, 4, 6, 33; passim); the Holy Spirit “will speak” (16:13).

  • The Son does not act or speak “on his own” (aph’ heautou, 5:19; 7:18; cf. 7:17; 8:28; 12:49; 14:10); likewise, the Holy Spirit will not speak “on his own” (aph’ heautou, 16:13). The deference of the Son to the Father is matched by the deference of the Holy Spirit to the Son.

  • The Son “speaks” what he “heard” from the Father (8:40); the Holy Spirit “will speak” what he “hears” from the Son (16:13).

  • The Son came to glorify the Father (12:28; 14:13; 15:8; 17:1, 4); the Holy Spirit came to glorify the Son (16:14).

  • The Son “will declare” all things (4:25); the Holy Spirit “will declare” the Son’s things (16:14-15).

Raymond Brown, the late Roman Catholic biblical scholar, had it right when he commented, “As another Paraclete, the Paraclete is, as it were, another Jesus.”1

In systematic theological treatments of the personhood of the Holy Spirit, it is commonly pointed out that in the Paraclete passages it is said that the Holy Spirit will be sent and that he will hear, speak, teach, testify, and declare, and that these are actions of a person, not a force. This observation is both correct and pertinent, but the argument as commonly presented is not air-tight. It is possible to pull on a thread here or there, pointing out that biblical texts occasionally say that Scripture “speaks” or that Jesus’ miracles “testify,” and since Scripture and miracles are not persons, perhaps neither is the Holy Spirit. However, when one takes these and other elements of what John 14-16 says about the Holy Spirit cumulatively in the context of the narrative in which one person, the Son, is leaving and before he goes promises to send someone like him, the Holy Spirit, in his stead, the argument for the personhood of the Spirit really becomes irrefutable.

One likely objection to viewing the Spirit as a person in the Gospel of John is its use of metaphors for the Spirit that do not seem “personal.” Thus the Holy Spirit in his descent on Jesus is described as descending as a dove (1:32). Jesus compared the Spirit to the wind (3:8) and later compared the Spirit to water (7:37-39). What this objection overlooks, however, is that similar metaphors are used for Jesus himself.2 He is introduced in the Gospel as “the Word” (ho logos, 1:1, 14). John the Baptist refers to Jesus as “the Lamb of God” (1:29). In the discourse in John 6, Jesus refers to himself as “the bread of life”3 and invites people to eat his flesh and drink his blood. Jesus also called himself “the light of the world” (8:12; cf. 1:5, 9). In his words of consolation and challenge to Martha after the death of Lazarus, Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life” (11:25). Jesus also told the disciples that he was the Vine and they were the branches (15:1-6). If Jesus, who is a person, may be described metaphorically as word, bread, light, and a vine, then the Holy Spirit may be described metaphorically as acting like a dove, wind, and water and yet still also be a person.4 Notice, though, that reading these statements as metaphorical in no way conflicts with the narrative arc of the book as a whole or with the genre and immediate context of these statements. As has been shown, however, this would be precisely the result if one were to attempt to interpret the references to the Paraclete as personifications of an impersonal force or an abstract attribute of God.

A related objection is that if the Spirit were a divine person distinct from the Father and the Son, one would expect to find this idea earlier in the Bible. This is a related objection because the same kind of objection as applied to the Son is demonstrably fallacious. That is, there is no explicit or clear revelation in the Old Testament of a distinct divine person of the Son, either, but this does not preclude the possibility or negate the reality of the disclosure of this person in the Incarnation. One may grant that some of the Old Testament motifs that are applied in the New Testament to the person of Jesus Christ—such as the word of God or the wisdom of God—seem on their own terms to stop short of revealing him to be a distinct divine person. Yet in the unfolding of God’s revelation in redemptive history Jesus Christ is shown to be not only a person but the eternal, divine Son. Likewise the Holy Spirit emerges in that same progressive revelation as a divine person distinct from both the Father and the Son. Jesus’ promise to the disciples to send the Spirit as another Paraclete is therefore in the larger context of biblical theology the first historical revelation clearly disclosing that the Holy Spirit is himself a distinct, divine person.


Click here for Part Five: The Holy Spirit as an Active Character in the Book of Acts



1. Raymond E. Brown, “The Paraclete in the Fourth Gospel,” NTS 13 (1966-67): 124.

2. On metaphor in John, see, e.g., Jan G. van der Watt, Family of the King: Dynamics of Metaphor in the Gospel according to John, Biblical Interpretation 47 (Leiden: Brill, 2000).

3. Cf. Peder Borgen, Bread from Heaven: An Exegetical Study of the Concept of Manna in the Gospel of John and the Writings of Philo, NovTSup 10 (Leiden: Brill, 1965).

4. On these metaphors for the Spirit in John’s Gospel, see especially Johann Joubert, “Johannine Metaphors/Symbols Linked to the Paraclete-Spirit and Their Theological Implications,” AcT 27, 1 (2007): 83-103.