The Comforter has Come! [But not by way of Amazon…]

““I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever;that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you.”
(John 14:16–17 NAS95)

The word in bold is a Greek word which we can transliterate as “Paraclete” [παράκλητος for Greek studs].  It is a notoriously difficult word to translate into something that makes sense to the English reader.

It has been variously translated:

  • Advocate NLT, LEB, NRSV
  • Helper ESV, NASB95, NKJV
  • Comforter KJV 1900, AV 1873
  • Counselor NIV84, RSV
  • advocate to help NIV

There is some difficulty with all of these translations.  For instance, if Jesus says “He will give you another comforter, an unsuspecting English reader might think that God was going to send him a nice, fluffy quilt.  Don Carson points out the difficulty with “comforter” and its present English meaning:

“‘Comforter’ was not bad in Elizabethan English, when the verb ‘to comfort’ meant ‘to strengthen, give succour to, to encourage, to aid’ (from Latin confortare, ‘to strengthen’). In today’s ears, ‘Comforter’ sounds either like a quilt or like a do-gooder at a wake, and for most speakers of English should be abandoned.”

Indeed.

Counselor isn’t too much better because we might understand Jesus as saying that the Holy Spirit will be like a camp counselor or a marriage counselor.  This is also not a correct understanding of the term.  Carson again:

“‘Counsellor’ is not wrong, so long as ‘legal counsellor’ is understood, not ‘camp counsellor’ or ‘marriage counsellor’—and even so, the Paraclete’s ministry extends beyond the legal sphere. The same limitation afflicts ‘Advocate’.”

One commentator [Borchert] finds translating the word so problematic that he just prefers to keep the Greek word and translate it as “paraclete.”  He goes on to say:

“Thus the picture presented in this context is that of a Paraclete who will function as a replacement and a strengthening companion who will be a kind of alter ego for Jesus. Jesus had been leading them, advising them, teaching them, empowering them, and critiquing them. But his time with them would thereafter be limited, and his followers needed a new companion who could function in all those ways.”

Don Carson explains what paraclete means:

“The Greek term paraklētos, rendered ‘Counsellor’ in the NIV, is the verbal adjective of parakaleō, lit. ‘to call alongside’, and hence ‘to encourage’, ‘to exhort’. The verbal adjective has passive force, and is roughly equivalent to ho parakeklēmenos, ‘one who is called alongside’. In secular Greek, paraklētos primarily means ‘legal assistant, advocate’ (LSJ, s.v.) i.e. someone who helps another in court, whether as an advocate, a witness, or a representative.”

Jesus promised to send another paraclete/advocate/comforter/counselor after he left the disciples.  This is the Holy Spirit.

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