Monday, June 10, 2019

The Spirit as the Emissary of Truth

The Spirit as the Emissary of Truth

Below is a rough translation and some initial comments about John 16:12-15, the gospel reading of the Revised Common Lectionary for the Sunday after Pentecost. ‘Tis the Season of Pentecost, so we are listening for how God’s spirit is poured out in the community today. Your comments are welcomed.

12  Ἔτι πολλὰ ἔχω ὑμῖν λέγειν, ἀλλ' οὐ δύνασθε βαστάζειν ἄρτι: 
Still many things I have to say to you, but you are not able to bear now;
ἔχω: PAI 1s, ἔχω, 1) to have, i.e. to hold
λέγειν: PAInf, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak 
δύνασθε: PMI 2p, δύναμαι, 1) to be able, have power 2) to be able to do something 
βαστάζειν: PAInf, βαστάζω, 1) to take up with the hands
1. Several translations supply a “them” for the last phrase as the object of ‘to bear’.
2. This is a very open-ended remark, similar to 20:30 and 21:25, suggesting that the revelation of and about Christ is continual and not final. This language suggests (to me, anyway) that John is addressing his community and their living engagement with the gospel.

13 ὅταν δὲ ἔλθῃ ἐκεῖνος, τὸ πνεῦμα τῆς ἀληθείας, ὁδηγήσει ὑμᾶς ἐν τῇ ἀληθείᾳ πάσῃ: οὐ γὰρ λαλήσει ἀφ' ἑαυτοῦ, ἀλλ' ὅσα ἀκούσει λαλήσει, καὶ τὰ ἐρχόμενα ἀναγγελεῖ ὑμῖν. 
Yet when he may come, the spirit of truth, it will guide to you in all the truth; for it will not speak about himself, but whatever it hears it will say, and the things which are coming it will make known to you.
ἔλθῃ: AASubj 3s, ἔρχομαι, 1) to come 
ὁδηγήσει: FAI 3s, ὁδηγέω, 1) to be a guide, lead on one's way, to guide 
λαλήσει: FAI 3s, λαλέω, 1) to utter a voice or emit a sound  2) to speak
ἀκούσει: FAI 3s, ἀκούω, 1) to be endowed with the faculty of hearing  2) to hear
λαλήσει: FAI 3s, λαλέω, 1) to utter a voice or emit a sound  2) to speak
ἐρχόμενα: PMPart apn, ἔρχομαι, 1) to come 
ἀναγγελεῖ: FAI 3s, ἀναγγέλλω, 1) to announce, make known 
1. I’m struggling with the gender-laden nature of both Greek and English here. The pronouns ἐκεῖνος (he) and ἑαυτοῦ (himself) are male; the noun τὸ πνεῦμα, to which those pronouns refer, is neuter. The verbs are 3rd person singular and could the implied subject could be he, she, or it. I am going to let the pronouns be male, but retain the neuter for the implied subject of the verbs, honoring the noun.
2. The verb ἔλθῃ is an aorist subjunctive verb, signifying something conditional. I use ‘may’ in the raw translation in order to keep that conditionality prominent. In this phrase, the condition that the subjunctive indicates is ‘when,’ so in a refined translation I would simply make it “when he comes.”
3. The pronoun ὅσα (whatever) is plural, as is the substantive participle τὰ ἐρχόμενα (the things which are coming), indicating that what the spirit will hear and report will not be just one thing, but many.
4. The verb ἀναγγέλλω shows up in vv.13, 14 and 15. See the comment in v.15, n.3.
5. I am curious about the caveat that the spirit of truth will not speak about itself, but will only repeat what it hears. Why would Jesus make this clarification? Was there some kind of ongoing controversy over whether the spirit of truth (or truth itself) has something to say that Jesus (via God) does not? Is there a ‘reason v. revelation’ controversy behind this statement? If so, this verse would be subordinating reason to revelation without dismissing reason (if that is a valid way of interpreting ‘the spirit of truth.’)

14 ἐκεῖνος ἐμὲ δοξάσει, ὅτι ἐκ τοῦ ἐμοῦ λήμψεται καὶ ἀναγγελεῖ ὑμῖν. 
He will glorify me, because out of the mine it will take and make known to you.
δοξάσει: FAI 3s, δοξάζω, 1) to think, suppose, be of opinion  2) to praise, extol, magnify, celebrate
λήμψεται: FMI 3s, λαμβάνω, 1) to take 
ἀναγγελεῖ: FAI 3s, ἀναγγέλλω, 1) to announce, make known 
1. The phrase “out of the mine” is rather awkward because I want to show that there is a definite article (τοῦ) before the possessive pronoun ‘mine’ (ἐμοῦ), both of which are genitive singular. I’m not sure how to translate that article. Most of the translations that I have seen seem to make it the object of the verb ‘take’ and ‘make known,’ as “what is mine it will take and make known.”  I would expect an accusative case or a relative pronoun if that were the meaning. Anyone have some insight into this curious construction?

15 πάντα ὅσα ἔχει ὁ πατὴρ ἐμά ἐστιν: διὰ τοῦτο εἶπον ὅτι ἐκ τοῦ ἐμοῦ λαμβάνει καὶ ἀναγγελεῖ ὑμῖν.
All that the father has is mine; because of this I said “Out of the mine it takes and makes known to you.”
ἔχει: PAI 3s, ἔχω, 1) to have, i.e. to hold
ἐστιν: PAI 3s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present 
εἶπον: AAI 1s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak 
λαμβάνει: PAI 3s, λαμβάνω, 1) to take 
ἀναγγελεῖ: FAI 3s, ἀναγγέλλω, 1) to announce, make known 
1. There are two words in this verse which could mean ‘because’: διὰ and ὅτι. ὅτι can also mean ‘that’ or mark the beginnings of a quote. I am interpreting it as the latter because this verse quotes (almost) the previous one.
2. The difference between the quote in v.15 and v.14 is that v.15 has ‘takes’ and v.14 has ‘will take.’
3. The verb ἀναγγέλλω, which appears in vv. 13, 14 and 15, appears 2 other times in John’s gospel. In Jn. 4:25, the woman at the well tells Jesus that when the Christ comes he will “tell us all things.” In Jn. 5:15 a lame man whom Jesus had healed on the Sabbath went “and told the Jews that it was Jesus who healed him.” My next step in studying this text will be to explore the difference between ἀναγγέλλω and the more common verb ἀγγέλλω. In this context, the spirit seems to be a ‘go-between’ that explores and hears the things that Chris has (since everything God has, Christ also has) and then makes them known to the church.

4. This verse feels like an odd thing for someone to say in real time. I suspect it is a clarification by the writer for the sake of a controversial theological point at play in his community. Elaine Pagels (in Beyond Belief) argues that one polemic John is addressing is the notion embraced in the Gospel of Thomas that the truth lies within each person. Instead, John argues that the truth lies within Christ alone, who is made known by the spirit to those who believe in Christ. If Pagels’ thesis is correct, this text could be part of that ongoing polemic, centering the theology embraced by the Johannine community in Christ. On the other hand, it could also be validating the Johannine community’s theology even though it is different from what other Christian communities hold (such as reflected in the synoptic gospels).


  1. Many thanks for your work in allowing the original text to speak "raw". I appreciate your comments, too. Your site has become a first stop for me in sermon prep.

    1. I second that sentiment -- even 9 years later, I always look for your exegises on "the text this week" as a good place to better understand the Greek before I start thinking about what it all means.

  2. Thanks, Randy. Feel free to contribute along the way. Good to be journeying with you.

  3. From what I remember, the ἐκ τοῦ ἐμοῦ is not an unusual construction with verbs like λαμβάνω, meaning take (something) out of (all that is) mine. I think this implies that we can get pieces of the truth from the Spirit but not the whole thing all at once, which would overwhelm us no doubt. Thank you, Mark, for the work you do here. I read it almost every week and you have done wonders with reviving my Greek, which was getting rusty. I don't comment much, but I would like you to know how much I appreciate your diligence and your many helpful insights.

    1. Thank you, Jenny, for your comment regarding ἐκ τοῦ ἐμοῦ. And thanks for your word of encouragement. It is a joy to know that we are on this journey together.

    2. I agree with Randy and Jenny. I love to run my raw interpretation by your comments. Your blog here is a frequent stop for me in my preparations. I am from Singapore.

  4. Spirit - neuter; of truth - feminine
    I am curious if you have thought about why the word truth would be considered a feminine noun? For me it brings up lots of questions. Granted feminine and masculine in language are not the same as in humans, but when a noun is masculine or feminine, we tend to associate different characteristics with it. Truth, sounds like it would be a strong, hierarchical masculine, but no. Feminine. I wonder if you have thought about this.

  5. From BlueLetter's link:
    Inflected Word: τῆς
    Root Form: ὁ
    Strong's: G3588
    Speech: Definite article
    Parsing: Genitive Feminine Singular

    So neuter or feminine?

  6. Also - truth is a 'thing' in English. Positive and positivist. ἀληθείας is a negative in Greek - not clouded - no?

  7. Any chance that the 'spirit of truth' is not 'the Holy Spirit; 3rd person of Trinity' but John himself or the leader of the Johannine community?? If the Johnannine letter are any indication, the leaders of the community were very concerned about 'the truth' and that their community, which they lead, 'are walking in the truth'


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