Pneumatology in the Fourth Gospel
Carl M. Chambers
The Holy Spirit is described in three ways in the Fourth Gospel : “Holy Spirit”, “Spirit of Truth”, and “paraclete”. Only the term “Holy Spirit” is used in the Old Testament, with the other two descriptions being totally new. »1 This shows immediately the importance of pneumatology in John’s Gospel for biblical theology.
The Spirit in John’s Gospel is linked with the synoptics in a variety of ways, »2 yet John presents the Spirit in a clearly distinct way (for instance, there is no casting out of demons). Indeed, in John’s Gospel, the Spirit is not depicted as “wonder-working”, »3 at least by human standards, although “spiritual re-birth” »4 could be seen as the greatest wonder of all.
This paper will seek to show that the role of the Spirit in John is:
The word pneuma is twice used of a “perturbed human spirit of Jesus”, »7 once as ‘wind’ »8 (with a deliberate pun on the word, since elsewhere another word is used for wind), »9 and other times in a generic sense. »10 But typically, it is used to refer to the Holy Spirit: each time, the context clearly indicates which is which. Because of 14:26, we deny that ‘pneuma’ is simply ‘divine power’, or more broadly ‘God’. »11 We will argue he is a distinct person, yet who is divine.
The term ‘paraclete’ is used only in the farewell discourse. »12 The question as to why is the Spirit called ‘paraclete’ has been the subject of much debate over the centuries. Indeed Barrett notes:
“it is not too much to say that the literature of the ancient world has been ransacked in the attempt to find an answer to this question”. »13
The word is little used in Greek literature, and where so it is mostly a legal term. »14 However, speaking about the legal activity in a court room, Barrett is right to note that “there is no trace of this activity in John”. »15
The root is probably closer in John’s Gospel to ‘parakaleo’, which is also used in the New Testament »16 to ‘exhort’ or to ‘comfort’ (the latter recollecting Old Testament themes). It is suggestive of a passive word, »17 with the implication of someone who is called in to help. But this is alien to the New Testament passages where this is used. The Holy Spirit is not called in, but sent. As Braumann says, he “does not merely put in a good word, but brings active help”. »18 Others link the meaning with that of ‘comforter’. »19
According to Leaney, Betz claims that the Paraclete, so long as he is in heaven, is identifiable with the Logos. We agree with Leaney who says that “there is no warrant” »20 for this, not least because John 1 clearly distinguishes the Spirit from the incarnate Logos. Betz continues, by linking paraclete with “Prince of Lights” »21 - a heavenly being elsewhere likened to an angel, created by God at creation, whose existence and activity are integral to the functioning of the universe. In so doing, Betz fails to take sufficiently seriously the clearly shown divinity of the Spirit shown in the Gospel. »22
Many have noted that the Greek word ‘pneuma’ is neuter, but have referred to the Spirit as a masculine person (“he”). The traditional argument is that the pronoun ‘ekeinos’ in 15:26 »23 is masculine, despite being after pneuma. Yet Wallace rightly argues that ‘ekeinos’ refers to the earlier ‘paracletos’, not ‘pneuma’ »24. Similarly, we reject ideas that because ‘paracletos’ is masculine, this refers to a personality as such. »25
However, the Spirit’s task of representing Jesus, and recalling and interpreting the revelation brought by Jesus, “make very clear the personal nature of the Spirit”. »26
The activity of the Spirit can be considered by considering in varying degrees of depth the occurrences in John’s Gospel when the Spirit is referred to. In each of these, the unfolding glorification of Jesus Christ by the Spirit can be seen, as the Spirit makes him known as Son.
v John 1: Identifying Jesus
The first reference to the Spirit in John’s Gospel is curiously important. The Holy Spirit marks Jesus out: he testifies silently, but enables John the Baptist to declare publicly who Jesus is: the Son of God. »27 This is in the context of describing Jesus as the ‘Lamb of God’, »28 thus making clear reference to the impending perfect sacrifice of Jesus, which would be the manner in which Jesus says he will be glorified. »29
It is to be noted, with regards to the Trinity, that the Holy Spirit is already present, before Jesus is sent. Later, it is Jesus who sends the Spirit, but here is a clear role of the Spirit which is functionally independent of Jesus in its initiation.
v John 3 : The Spirit and new birth
The seemingly mysterious »30 role of the Spirit in giving new birth is described in John 3. The shock for Nicodemus is that a second birth is necessary. At the time, he does not understand that this is only possible through the Spirit. »31
v John 4 : worshipping in spirit
John 4 presents a clever mixture of the generic and divine use of ‘pneuma’. God is spirit (divine), yet he is to be worshipped in spirit (generic). This is copied to some extent in 6:63, as the author continues wordplays to provoke understanding.
v John 7 : anticipating the Spirit
Recollecting imagery from Zechariah 14, “living water” is used as a symbol of the spirit. The Spirit is promised to all believers in Jesus, yet can only come when he is glorified, which is after his death, resurrection and ascension.
v John 14-17 : the promise of the Spirit
An eternal paraclete is promised in John 14v16, who will be sent from the Father, on Jesus’ request. As Carson argues, “If the spirit is sent in Jesus’ name, he is Jesus’ emissary, and not simply his substitute” »32. The Spirit is described as “another” paraclete, with the context dictating the implication that Jesus is the first one. »33
The Spirit is the “holy” Spirit. According to Leaney, the Sinaitic Syriac omits ‘holy’ [to hagion], enabling him to conclude that the Spirit should not be described thus. But the majority of reliable sources include it, and Leaney is wrong to rely on such insubstantial evidence. »34 Describing the Spirit as holy is a deliberate act of the author to attribute divine qualities to the Spirit, as well as to enable the reader to draw parallels with Jesus. »35
The Spirit is described as the “Spirit of truth” »36, whom the world cannot receive. He abides with the disciples, and will be in the disciples.
He is a teaching paraclete »37, sent by the Father, in Jesus’ name. Although sent by the Father, his work will be to remind the disciples of all that Jesus has taught them. This teaching function is not limited, however, merely to what Jesus has taught them, for later it is Jesus who promises that the Spirit will guide the disciples into what can be considered new revelation or understanding. »38 Declaring what he has been instructed to declare, the Spirit’s role is explicitly to glorify Jesus in doing this. »39 Within these verses, Jesus describes God as the Father, thus acknowledging his place as the Son, and yet relying on the Spirit to work to enable to disciples to know this.
He is a testifying paraclete, who is sent by Jesus, from the Father, in 15:26. His testimony will be true, because he is the Spirit of truth. This truth is not generic, but has its focus on Jesus: the Spirit testifies to Jesus, in Jesus’ absence. The truth focuses on Jesus. Functionally, therefore, the Spirit is another witness; theologically, he says Jesus is the Son.
So the Spirit is to convict the world of its sin, righteousness and judgment. »43 This presents a difficulty for Reese, who highlights Morris’ description of this as the only passage in the New Testament where the Holy Spirit does work in an unbelieving world. »44 He is joined by others in suggesting that these three words do not refer exclusively to the world, but to a variety of other groups. For instance, the Spirit could be seen to convict the world of its sin, of Jesus’ righteousness, and of the world’s judgment (by Jesus).
However, this argument requires some hermeneutical acrobatics. The word ‘kosmos’ is typically negative in John’s Gospel; a few times it is neutral, but it is never positive. »45 It is inappropriate, therefore, to be optimistic about the world’s status after the conviction of the Spirit. The “convicting of guilt” does not require for the party to be convicted in themselves, merely for the guilt to be established. »46 There is also no theological reason why the Spirit can not work on an unconverted world. Indeed, this must occur for anyone to be converted. However, given the parallels between the Spirit and Jesus, we can see in John’s mind that it is possible to meet with God, yet to remain unconverted.
For similar reasons, the idea that Jesus had primarily the disciples in view, and that the Spirit proves the world wrong ‘in the disciples’ eyes’, may be attractive because he is not seen as functioning on the world at all, but lacks substance because these verses in their context clearly show the Spirit acting on the world.
So we concur with Carson that here the Spirit is convicting the world as to its sin, its lack of righteousness, and its impending judgment. »47
Finally, consider the author’s deliberate use of irony. In so showing the world its guilt, some will be led to repent and see that Jesus is the Son.
v John 19v30 : generic or deliberate?
As Jesus dies, he gives up his spirit. It is possible that this is a generic use of ‘pneuma’, but this would be unusual. There are other words for soul, which are also used in John with reference to death. »48 Burge claims that the phrase used is found “nowhere in Greek literature for death”. »49 So, Burge continues, the imagery is of Jesus giving up his spirit, that the Holy Spirit may be released from him. He continues this assertion by arguing that the reference in 19:34 to blood and water, is a direct link to Jesus’ death (blood) and the giving of the spirit (water). This latter argument is perhaps making too tenuous a link, but it does not seem unlikely that deliberate symbolism is being used to link Jesus’ giving of his life, and his giving of the Spirit to the world.
v John 20:22: A Johannine Pentecost?
An historical problem with Acts 2 is immediately raised if this verse depicts a literal giving of the Spirit, for the Spirit is clearly ‘poured out’ in Jerusalem after Jesus’ ascension. Jesus’ meeting here is between his resurrection and ascension.
The orthodox theologian, van Rossum, »50 sees the two stages of giving of the Holy Spirit as the mark of a “gradual process” of the giving of the Holy Spirit - a process which continues until now.&nnbsp; John 22 merely marks the beginning of the process.
Various understandings can be taken. Burge does not consider this symbolic, but rather a literal breathing of the Spirit. Carson does consider this symbolic, in that it anticipates the sending of the Spirit at Pentecost.
The word Jesus uses for “receive” »51 is used elsewhere in the Gospel, and is linked to believing in Jesus. »52 Whatever Jesus is doing, he is clearly linking the reception of the Spirit with believing in him - something the disciples were being called to do, and which Thomas, who was not with them when Jesus breathed on them, had notoriously failed to do.
We may now consider the link between pneumatology and two themes in the Gospel, namely: Christology and eschatology.
The Spirit is linked with Christ in a number of clear ways in the Fourth Gospel.
They both give life. Jesus has come that we may have life: all who come to him receive life. »53 Yet it is clearly the Holy Spirit who gives life. »54 They both teach. »55 Indeed, they are both the Divine Teacher. »56
However, the two activities which most closely relate the Spirit with Jesus relate to “truth” and “witness”.
Just as Jesus is the truth, »61 so the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth, »62 who will teach the disciples the truth. »63 This truth, according to 16:14, is truth which comes from Jesus and has the purpose of glorifying Jesus. It is truth which also comes from the Father, and will be focused on Christ, since the Spirit’s work will be to testify about Christ »64. His revelation continues something which Jesus has already started, but completes it, such that what Jesus has begun to show them may be completely known by them. »65 With respect to John, and particularly the ‘Upper Room’ narrative where the ‘paraclete’ term is used, Jesus’ prime revelation is that he is the Son of the Father.
We can therefore see that the ‘truth’ which the Holy Spirit is concerned with is that Jesus is the Son. This denies Bultmann’s belief that Jesus merely reveals that he is “the revealer”. Rather, the Spirit gives substance to Jesus’ revelation, that he, Jesus, is the Son of the Father.
The Spirit also witnesses to Jesus »66, as Jesus witnesses to Father »67, as the Father, John and the scriptures testify to Jesus »68. This was a role which was started physically, through his descent onto Jesus like a dove, and is continued spiritually as the Spirit dwells within people. »69
The Spirit is strongly linked with eschatology in John’s Gospel. The Spirit only comes when Jesus has been glorified. »70 Barrett helpfully draws the parallel with the synoptics by saying that John “introduces his doctrine of the Spirit in place of synoptic realized eschatology”. »71 The Spirit brings in the new age - which is the age of the Spirit, which starts after Jesus’ glorification. Yet this is not merely a future hope, as Burge describes:
“the realized eschatology of the Fourth Gospel is so apparent that it is difficult to determine where the eschatological age begins” »72
The Holy Spirit in John’s Gospel works to glorify Jesus, as the Son of the Father. More broadly, we note that Jesus’ role is to make the Father known. The Spirit and the Son thus operate together so that the world may known the Father, and in knowing him, may become his children.