19 May 2014

The Spirit, Truth and the Trinity:
John 16: 5-16, a Bible study

The Holy Spirit descending as a dove ... part of a triptych in the Chapel of Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

Patrick Comerford,

Church of Ireland Theological Institute,

19 May 2014

John 16: 5-16

<Ο Ιησούς είπε> 5 νῦν δὲ ὑπάγω πρὸς τὸν πέμψαντά με, καὶ οὐδεὶς ἐξ ὑμῶν ἐρωτᾷ με, Ποῦ ὑπάγεις; 6 ἀλλ' ὅτι ταῦτα λελάληκα ὑμῖν ἡ λύπη πεπλήρωκεν ὑμῶν τὴν καρδίαν. 7 ἀλλ' ἐγὼ τὴν ἀλήθειαν λέγω ὑμῖν, συμφέρει ὑμῖν ἵνα ἐγὼ ἀπέλθω. ἐὰν γὰρ μὴ ἀπέλθω, ὁ παράκλητος οὐκ ἐλεύσεται πρὸς ὑμᾶς: ἐὰν δὲ πορευθῶ, πέμψω αὐτὸν πρὸς ὑμᾶς. 8 καὶ ἐλθὼν ἐκεῖνος ἐλέγξει τὸν κόσμον περὶ ἁμαρτίας καὶ περὶ δικαιοσύνης καὶ περὶ κρίσεως: 9 περὶ ἁμαρτίας μέν, ὅτι οὐ πιστεύουσιν εἰς ἐμέ: 10 περὶ δικαιοσύνης δέ, ὅτι πρὸς τὸν πατέρα ὑπάγω καὶ οὐκέτι θεωρεῖτέ με: 11 περὶ δὲ κρίσεως, ὅτι ὁ ἄρχων τοῦ κόσμου τούτου κέκριται.

12 Ἔτι πολλὰ ἔχω ὑμῖν λέγειν, ἀλλ' οὐ δύνασθε βαστάζειν ἄρτι: 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. 14 ἐκεῖνος ἐμὲ δοξάσει, ὅτι ἐκ τοῦ ἐμοῦ λήμψεται καὶ ἀναγγελεῖ ὑμῖν. 15 πάντα ὅσα ἔχει ὁ πατὴρ ἐμά ἐστιν: διὰ τοῦτο εἶπον ὅτι ἐκ τοῦ ἐμοῦ λαμβάνει καὶ ἀναγγελεῖ ὑμῖν.

16 Μικρὸν καὶ οὐκέτι θεωρεῖτέ με, καὶ πάλιν μικρὸν καὶ ὄψεσθέ με.

[Jesus said:] ‘5 But now I am going to him who sent me; yet none of you asks me, “Where are you going?” 6 But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your hearts. 7 Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. 8 And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgement: 9 about sin, because they do not believe in me; 10 about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; 11 about judgement, because the ruler of this world has been condemned.

12 ‘I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you.15 All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

16 ‘A little while, and you will no longer see me, and again a little while, and you will see me.’

The context:

The Triptych of the Baptism of Christ in the Chapel of Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

The Synoptic Gospels have little to say about either the person or the work of the Holy Spirit. On the other hand, in the Fourth Gospel, there are three chapters (John 14-16) that teach about the Holy Spirit and the work and role of the Holy Spirit, and on receiving the Holy Spirit.

Throughout Saint John’s Gospel we are offered glimpses of the Spirit. And in Saint John’s Gospel the Spirit is associated primarily with Christ.

In all, Saint John’s Gospel discusses the Holy Spirit in the following places:

John 1: 32-34: Saint John the Baptist testifies that the Holy Spirit descends from heaven like a dove on Christ at his Baptism, and remains on him.

John 3: 5-8: Early in his ministry, Christ introduces the Spirit into his conversation with the Pharisee Nicodemus. How central is the Spirit? Christ declares “no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit” (verse 5). The Holy Spirit is the Giver of Life (verse 6), and the Spirit acts sovereignly, and “blows where it chooses” (verse 8).

John 4: 5-26: In his conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well in Sychar, Christ speaks of the Holy Spirit is Living Water (verse 10), and tells her that the Holy Spirit leads us into worship of God, whom we worship in Spirit and in Truth (verses 23-24).

John 14: 15-21: The Gospel reading in the Revised Common Lectionary for next Sunday, the Sixth Sunday of Easter [25 May 2014], where Christ speaks of the Holy Spirit as an Advocate who is with us forever (verse 16), the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of truth (verse 17), and the Holy Spirit as the Teacher and Reminder of Christ (verse 26).

The Gospel reading (John 15: 26-John 16: 4) in the Church of Ireland lectionary for the following day [26 May 2014], when Christ says the Advocate or the Holy Spirit is being sent by the Father in Christ’s name, is the teacher of everything and is the reminder for us of all that Christ has said (John 15: 26).

Then, over the following days, we read John 16: 5-11 [27 May 2014] and John 16: 26-24 [28 May 2014] in preparation for the Ascension Day [29 May 2014], two readings that incorporate the passage we are looking at this morning.

John 16: 5-16: The passage we are looking at this morning, in which Christ promises again that the Holy Spirit is being sent to Disciples, and promises that the Holy Spirit will guide us “into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you … he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”

John 20: 22-23: The Risen Christ appears to the frightened and hiding disciples, breathes on them, and they receive the Holy Spirit.”

Looking at the passage (John 16: 5-16):

A modern icon of the Trinity inspired by Rublev’s icon … this passage teaches us the Holy Trinity is our way of life made possible by God

In Saint John’s Gospel, it is in his great farewell discourse and prayer (John 14: 1 to 17: 26) at the Last Supper that Christ most fully explores and explains the Spirit that he is to give to his disciples. Here he weaves the connection between God, the Father, himself, and the Spirit.

The Holy Trinity is our way of life made possible by God.

In this passage, after the Last Supper, Christ continues to tell the disciples about the mission they are to undertake. The “Spirit of truth” (verse 26) is the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit will be sent to the disciples, the Church, by Christ “from the Father.”

Christ’s challenge, “yet none of you asks me, ‘where are you going?’” (verse 5) seems strange because the disciples have asked the question earlier (see John 13: 36, 14: 5).

Perhaps Christ is saying: overwhelmed with “sorrow” (verse 6), you are missing the main point: the coming of the Spirit. By leaving them, Christ is able to send the Spirit, “the Advocate” (verse 7).

One thing the Spirit will do is show “the world” (verse 8, unbelievers) that they are wrong on three counts:

● their idea of sin is incorrect (verse 9);
● the righteous (the religious authorities) were wrong about Christ Jesus: he is God’s agent (verse 10);
● he has defeated sin (verse 11).

In verses 12-13, we find the disciples have much more to learn from Christ, but they are not yet ready to comprehend it. The Spirit will expand on what Christ has told them. In guiding them, the Spirit will speak what comes to him from God (as Christ has spoken what the Father has told him).

The Spirit will “declare” (verse 13) about events “to come”, not only prophecy about the end-times but also guidance in the way of Christ, after Christ’s death and resurrection.

In verse 13, Christ says: “the Spirit of truth ... will guide you into all the truth”: Philo, in his Life of Moses (2.265), speaks of a divine spirit guiding the mind to truth. Psalm 25: 5 asks that God “lead me in your truth, and teach me ...” The term “Spirit of truth” is also found in John 14: 17 and John 15: 26.

In 1 John 4: 6, we find a contrast between “the spirit of truth” with “the spirit of error.” In 1 John 5: 6, the writer says that “the Spirit is the truth.”

This terminology was current when John wrote; it is also found in 1QS (Qumran Rule of the Community) 3-4 and the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs (even to using the same verbs for “testify” (15: 26) and “guide”).

There are differences in the theology, but there are sufficient parallels for it to be likely that John’s term “Spirit of Truth” is a development from the usage in contemporary Judaism.

In the rest of this gospel, truth means belief in Christ as the sole revelation of God and the one who speaks the words of God. In John 8: 40, Christ describes himself as “a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God”. In John 8: 47, he tells some Pharisees: “Whoever is from God hears the words of God. The reason you do not hear them is that you are not from God”. See also John 3: 20 and 33.

In the phrase in verse 13, “declare to you,” the Greek verb is ἀναγγελεῖν (anangellein). In John 4: 25, the Samaritan woman speaks of the coming prophet in similar terms: “‘I know that Messiah is coming’ (who is called Christ). ‘When he comes, he will proclaim [anangellein] all things to us’.”

The phrase “things that are to come” (verse 13) refers not simply to prophecy but also to the interpretation of the life and death of Christ and the declaration of the new order which follows his departure to the Father.

The Spirit will elucidate for them that Christ fulfils God’s plans. The Spirit will reveal the essential nature of God, and show Christ’s power (“glorify”, verse 14). Whether the word comes from the Father, the Son, or the Holy Spirit, it is the same.

So this is also a Trinitarian passage, teaching us how the Holy Trinity is about relationship and indwelling. The Holy Trinity is about collaboration and the self-communication of God. The Holy Trinity is about the mutuality of God within the God-head, about our invitation into the God-head by Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. And it is about our mutuality with each other, guiding, speaking, and declaring to one another the glory of God, Father/Creator, Jesus/Son, and Holy Spirit.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism, Liturgy and Church History, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and an Adjunct Assistant Professor, Trinity College Dublin. These notes were prepared for a Bible study with students the Church of Ireland Theological Institute and Edgehill Theological College at a seminar on 19 May 2014.

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