Sunday, May 14, 2017

Attending Love

Below is a rough translation and some preliminary comments regarding John 14:15-21, the lectionary gospel reading for the sixth Sunday of Easter. Your comments are welcomed!  

I started something last week to see if it might have legs, so I'm still testing the idea of posting a link to a previous sermon along with the textual study that I do. I do not find a sermon on John 14:15-21 in my archives, but I do have one on the Acts 17 text that you can read here

15 Ἐὰν ἀγαπᾶτέ με, τὰς ἐντολὰς τὰς ἐμὰς τηρήσετε:
If you love me, you will attend to my commands;
ἀγαπᾶτέ: PASubj 2p, ἀγαπάω, 1) of persons  1a) to welcome, to entertain, to be fond of, to love dearly
τηρήσετε: FAI 2p, τηρέω, 1) to attend to carefully, take care of 
1. While there is an ‘if … then’ construction to this sentence, the verb τηρήσετε is future, not imperative.

16 κἀγὼ ἐρωτήσω τὸν πατέρα καὶ ἄλλον παράκλητον δώσει ὑμῖν ἵνα μεθ' ὑμῶν εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα ,
And I will ask the father and he will give to you another advocate in order that it might be with you into the age,
ἐρωτήσω: FAI 1s, ἐρωτάω, 1) to question  2) to ask  2a) to request, entreat, beg, beseech
δώσει: FAI 3s, δίδωμι, 1) to give  2) to give something to someone
: PASubj 3s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
1. The paraclete (παράκλητον) is an interesting term. The definition via is:
called to one's aid (properly a verbal adjective implying capability or adaptation for giving the aid). Here as a subs. with article, he who has been or may be called to help (especially in a court of justice, a legal assistant). Used of both the second and third persons in the Holy Trinity. (I John 2:1, so that there is one paraclete with us that we may not sin, and 'another' paraclete with the Father if we do sin.)
That definition, oddly enough is an explanation of this word rendered often as ‘comforter.’ I worry that ‘comforter’ brings to mind a snuggie, something that wraps around us when we are sick and keeps us snug and warm. The way that John is using the word in this context suggests that ‘advocate’ is a better choice for translation.
2. The ‘another advocate’ seems to be that Jesus is one advocate – by asking something of the father on their behalf – and what Jesus is asking is that they get another advocate, which will stay with them and be in them after Jesus departs.
3. The last verb, ᾖ, is in the 3rd persons singular, meaning it has an implied subject which could be translated he, she, or it. Grammatically, the antecedent of that subject could be the advocate or the father. Because of what follows, I think the antecedent is the advocate, which, for clarity’s sake, I will translate as ‘it’ rather than ‘he.’
4. The phrase εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα ‘(into the age) is usually translated as ‘forever.’ I think that translation loses some of the nuance of the word αἰῶνα, which is rooted in the verb for ‘breathe or blow’ and, as such, refers to transitory life, like a generation, a dispensation, or an age. One can say that, for Jesus in John’s gospel, the age at hand is different from all other ages and never-ending, but that is more of an interpretive leap than I am willing to make in a rough translation.

17 τὸ πνεῦμα τῆς ἀληθείας, ὃ ὁ κόσμος οὐ δύναται λαβεῖν, ὅτι οὐ θεωρεῖ αὐτὸ οὐδὲ γινώσκει: ὑμεῖς γινώσκετε αὐτό, ὅτι παρ' ὑμῖν μένει καὶ ἐν ὑμῖν ἔσται.
the spirit of truth, which the world is not able to receive, because it does not behold or know it; you know it, because it remains with you and will be in you.
δύναται: PMI 3s, δύναμαι, 1) to be able, have power whether by virtue of one's own ability and  resources, or of a state of mind, or through favourable  circumstances, or by permission of law or custom
λαβεῖν: AAInf, λαμβάνω, 1) to take  1a) to take with the hand, lay hold of, any person or thing  in order to use it
θεωρεῖ: PAI 3s, θεωρέω, 1) to be a spectator, look at, behold
γινώσκει: PAI 3s, γινώσκω, 1) to learn to know, come to know, get a knowledge of perceive, feel
γινώσκετε: PAI 2p, γινώσκω, 1) to learn to know, come to know, get a knowledge of perceive, feel
μένει: PAI 3s, μένω, 1) to remain, abide 
ἔσται: FMI 3s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
1. It seems reasonable to see the phrase “the spirit of truth” as another way of expressing “another advocate” of v.16. However, in v.16 Jesus is praying that God will give (future) another advocate and in this verse Jesus says it remains (present) with them, but will be (future) in them. It is like the “yet, but not yet” rhythm that many theologians use to speak of Jesus’ coming is – in John’s gospel – the way the spirit of truth is ‘with, but not yet in’ the disciples when Jesus was present.
2. I remember from my Pentecostal Holiness days that some pastors whom I admired used this verse to describe the infilling of the Spirit as a second definite work of grace. It is ‘with’ us enabling us to be saved; it will be ‘in’ us when we are ‘filled with the Spirit.’ I actually think that pattern is correct, with one caveat: The ‘us’ in this phrase is the disciples, who received the infilling, not on the day of Pentecost (this is John’s gospel after all, not Luke’s), but when Jesus visited them behind closed doors after the resurrection (John 20:22).

18 Οὐκ ἀφήσω ὑμᾶς ὀρφανούς, ἔρχομαι πρὸς ὑμᾶς.
I will not leave you orphans, I am coming to you.
ἀφήσω: FAI 1s, ἀφίημι, 1) to send away 1a) to bid going away or depart 
ἔρχομαι: PMI 1s, ἔρχομαι, 1) to come 
1. The word ὀρφανούς, which transliterates into orphans, is translated by Young’s Literal Translation as ‘bereaved.’ That’s an interesting twist of how an orphan is bereft of a parent, so the disciples will be bereaved of Jesus’ presence. The KJV uses ‘comfortless.’ That is odd because I see no etymological connection between παράκλητον, which KJV translates as ‘comforter’ and ὀρφανούς, which KJV translates as ‘comfortless.’
2. The verb ἔρχομαι (come) is very curious here. Is it in opposition to ‘leave’ (ἀφίημι, which is a very versatile word)? It is in the present tense. Many translations have “I will come” which sounds future, although they probably mean for it to show intention. It is also in the middle voice. I wonder if ‘enter’ captures the meaning more.

19 ἔτι μικρὸν καὶ ὁ κόσμος με οὐκέτι θεωρεῖ, ὑμεῖς δὲ θεωρεῖτέ με, ὅτι ἐγὼ ζῶ καὶ ὑμεῖς ζήσετε.
Yet a little and the world will no longer behold me, yet you will behold me, because I live and you will live.
θεωρεῖ: PAI 3s, θεωρέω, 1) to be a spectator, look at, behold
θεωρεῖτέ: PAI 2p, θεωρέω, 1) to be a spectator, look at, behold
ζῶ: PAI 1s, ζάω, 1) to live, breathe, be among the living (not lifeless, not dead) 
ζήσετε: FAI 2p, ζάω, 1) to live, breathe, be among the living (not lifeless, not dead)
1. Here and in v.17 I am using “behold” for θεωρέω, because I don’t want to confuse it with more common words for “see.” “See is a perfectly good choice; I’m just showing that it is a different verb.
2. While both of the “beholds” are present tense, I am using “will behold” because of the phrase, “Yet a little while” and the word “no longer.”
3. I take it this verse is talking about the death and resurrection. For the real time listeners the tenses and meaning might be very mysterious, but for John’s readers it might be less so.

20 ἐν ἐκείνῃ τῇ ἡμέρᾳ γνώσεσθε ὑμεῖς ὅτι ἐγὼ ἐν τῷ πατρί μου καὶ ὑμεῖς ἐν ἐμοὶ κἀγὼ ἐν ὑμῖν.
In this the day you will know that I in my father and he in me and I in you.
γνώσεσθε: FMI 2p, γινώσκω, 1) to learn to know, come to know, get a knowledge of perceive, feel
1. The only verb here is γνώσεσθε, “you will know.” As in the phrase “I in the father and the father in me” from Jn. 14:11 last week, there is no verb in this sentence after the ὅτι (“that.”) So, translators supply a form of the verb “to be.”

21 ἔχων τὰς ἐντολάς μου καὶ τηρῶν αὐτὰς ἐκεῖνός ἐστινἀγαπῶν με: ὁ δὲ ἀγαπῶν με ἀγαπηθήσεται ὑπὸ τοῦ πατρός μου, κἀγὼ ἀγαπήσω αὐτὸν καὶ ἐμφανίσω αὐτῷ ἐμαυτόν.
The one who has my laws and attends to them that one is the one who loves me; yet the one who loves me will be loved by my father, and I will love him and will manifest myself to him.
ἔχων: PAPart nsm, ἔχω, 1) to have, i.e. to hold
τηρῶν: PAPart nsm, τηρέω, 1) to attend to carefully, take care of 
ἐστιν: PAI 3s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
ἀγαπῶν: PAPart nsm, ἀγαπάω, 1) of persons  1a) to welcome, to entertain, to be fond of, to love dearly
ἀγαπῶν: PAPart nsm, ἀγαπάω, 1) of persons  1a) to welcome, to entertain, to be fond of, to love dearly
ἀγαπηθήσεται: FPI 3s, ἀγαπάω, 1) of persons  1a) to welcome, to entertain, to be fond of, to love dearly
ἀγαπήσω: FAI 1s,  ἀγαπάω, 1) of persons  1a) to welcome, to entertain, to be fond of, to love dearly
ἐμφανίσω: FAI 1s, ἐμφανίζω, 1) to manifest, exhibit to view
1. This verse comes full circle with v.15, where loving Jesus and attending to Jesus’ commands are first mentioned.

2. I am using “attend to” here and in v.15 for τηρέω, partly because I think it is a significant word philosophically. (It’s a Kantian thing, prompted by Kant’s phrase of “every act of attention” – aufmerkung or ‘marking out’ in German – which I think is a primordial moment in both pure and practical reason.) To “attend to” Jesus’ commands is less about ‘toeing the line’ as a burden and more about devoting one’s attention and energy toward them.
3. The question that lies unanswered is, “What are Jesus’ commands?” In John’s gospel, the only precedent that I can see here is the ‘new command’ to love one another as Jesus had loved them, which Jesus issued right after washing their feet in c.13. This text is still part of that same event and conversation, since the chapter division was a latter addition. A humble service-oriented love to others seems to be the “commands” to which those who love Jesus give attention.


  1. if iona is from the verb to breathe/blow...and the noun pneuma is also about breath and wind...might the term mean something about the Spirit and the hey (n) at the end of that phrase be something like "into the spirit within..or in you"...? just a question...bc

  2. BCPreacher, I wondered about the etymological connection between those words as well, but can't really speak to them.

  3. I think that the difficulty with the verbs (especially in verses 18-20) is because Jesus is in an Eternal moment, where the ideas of past/present/future don't really apply. It seems to me that John is the only Gospel writer who tries to wrestle with this, making his Gospel much more confusing in many places than the other three. Jesus is getting closer, in time, to the state where there is no time, and the Greek (or Aramaic? not sure) that he's speaking doesn't have the words to express Eternal things any more than English does. If you take the time element (verbs) out, as in v20, it actually makes it clearer than most translations. This is one of the most difficult passages in John (which is saying something!), and your translation and commentary are very helpful.

  4. I wonder if the meaning of the word "comforter" hasn't changed over time. It derives from the Latin fortis, which means strong, with the intensifier com. My dictionary says that, even now, in Law "to comfort" means to aid. So, rather than One that consoles or relieves us, the Spirit is one who aids and strengthens us.

    1. This is a wonderful insight to the word "comfort," Christine. If the common use retained the Latin or legal meaning, I think "Comforter" would be a very good translation of παράκλητον.
      As a child, I grew up in a church that often sang a hymn, "The Comforter Has Come." I do not ever recall making the connection that "comfort" meant anything more than something like 'giving assurance' or patting a hand and telling someone that 'things will be okay.' I guess that is a form of being "strong with," but it seems a very domesticated form of the word.
      Thanks for the etymology.

    2. In financial circles, there's the concept of a "letter of comfort", by which a parent company gives assurance of support for a subsidiary which is trying to raise finance. This seems a bit stronger than mere consolation.

  5. The RSV translated parakleton with "Counselor" which carries two English meanings. One is a professional therapist who helps us sort out our understandings and our options, enabling us to move forward. The other is of an attorney, who offers advice and "counsel" in our dealings with the legal system, and stands before the court on our behalf. While the latter meaning best captures the meaning of parakletov, I believe both meanings describe the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

    1. I've named my sermon for this week, "Guardian ad Litem," picking up on the legal shade of meaning as well. I think I have most often heard more of the therapeutic shade of meaning. Thanks for the distinction.

  6. I see I commented on this four years ago, but now what most occurs to me is your use of "it" for the Paraclete. Why did you choose not to use "Her?" The feminine aspect of God (Hagia Sophia, or Holy Wisdom) is long-established in the OT, and since I can't conceive of God as having gender, "Te" for God, "He" for Jesus, and "She" for the Spirit seems logical.

    1. Hi Caryn,
      Whenever I use a pronoun for the Holy Spirit in my own words, I tend toward "she" for precisely the reasons you give. In this case, the phrase τὸ πνεῦμα and the pronouns that follow are neuter, so I'm going with "it" to show that. In a refined translation, I would probably go with "her/she" because I think "it" has connotations other than neuter gender in common speech.

  7. in verse 17 would it not be reasonable to simple repeat the noun and not use any pronoun for the Advocate?

    1. Yes, in a refined translation that would be an option. In a rough translation I don't want to give the impression that the text itself repeats the noun. Some kind of subject is implied, so I have just used "it" to signify that implication.


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