(Part V of V)
In order to certify the genuineness of the gospel preached by the apostles, these men we equipped with special credentials that authenticated them as the ambassadors of Christ. It is a mistake for Christians to appeal to any of the passages that promised the Holy Spirit to the apostles and teach the availability of these today. The Holy Spirit was given to the apostles to aid their work as the unique ambassadors of Christ.
The Comforter Promised to the Apostles
John 14-16 records the final theological discussion Christ had with the apostles before His arrest and crucifixion. The promises found in these three chapters constitute the basis for much of the error being espoused in Christendom today. The application of these promises to anyone other than the apostles to whom they were spoken is a misapplication of Scripture.
Several statements evince the exclusive nature regarding this discourse, e.g., “These things I have spoken to you, while abiding with you” (John 14:25); and “because you have been with Me from the beginning” (John 15:27). These and similar statements reveal the uniqueness of the narrative as belonging only to the apostles who were personally chosen, trained, commissioned, and credentialed by Christ to serve as ambassadors for His kingdom.
The use of the word “Comforter” in association with the Holy Spirit is an unfortunate translation. Not only does it leave the wrong impression to the English reader, but the Greek parakletos is much broader in meaning than the word “comforter.” The misapplication of this promise emerges as the result of people recognizing that all men need comfort; therefore it is assumed that the Holy Spirit is given to all Christians as the source of comfort. The full definition – when viewed in conjunction with the ancient usage of the word – reveals the weakness of translating “comforter” in this place.
In 1 John 2:1, the Greek parakletos is used of Christ in heaven before the Father. Here the word is translated as “Advocate” – a clearer, more lucid and accurate translation. The context of Christ as an “Advocate” is that He speaks for sinful mankind before the throne. This is proper usage and an apt description befitting the term parakletos. Christ as Advocate speaks on behalf of His people, offering atonement for sins through His own propitious death. That both Christ and the Holy Spirit are properly designated by the term parakletos is seen in Christ’s usage of the word “another” (allos, “another of the same sort,” not heteros, “different”) in John 14:16.
Christ spoke for His apostles while present with them in the flesh; however, following His ascension, the Holy Spirit would be given to the apostles to speak for them in place of the physical presence of Christ. The promise in John is a fuller treatment of the more brief description Christ uttered at the selection and initial commissioning of the apostles in Matthew 10:1ff. On that occasion, Christ promised, “But when they deliver you up, do not become anxious about how or what you will speak; for it shall be given you in that hour what you are to speak. For it is not you who speak, but it is the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you” (10:19-20). The discussion presented in John 14-16 expands and clarifies this earlier promise concerning the Holy Spirit upon the apostles.
W. E. Vine defines the word parakletos: “lit., ‘called to one’s side,’ i.e., to one’s aid, is primarily a verbal adjective, and suggests the capability or adaptability for giving aid. It was used in a court of justice to denote a legal assistant, counsel for defense, an advocate; then, generally, one who pleads another’s cause, an intercessor, advocate, as in 1 John 1:2, of the Lord Jesus” (Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary, 111).
With a view toward pre-Christian and extra Christian literature, William Danker asserts, “it has for the most part a more general sense: one who appears in another’s behalf, mediator, intercessor, helper” (A Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament, 766). After citing the legal connotations of the word, Thayer adds, “in the widest sense, ‘a helper, succorer, aider, assistant’; so of the Holy Spirit destined to take the place of Christ with the apostles (after his ascension to the Father), to lead them to a deeper knowledge of gospel truth, and to give them the divine strength needed to enable them to undergo trials and persecutions on behalf of the divine kingdom” (Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon).
Marvin Vincent gave the following explanation comparing “Comforter” with “Advocate” in defining the Greek parakletos:
Only in John's Gospel and First Epistle (14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7; 1 John 2:1). From παρά, to the side of, and καλέω, to summon. Hence, originally, one who is called to another's side to aid him, as an advocate in a court of justice. The later, Hellenistic use of παρακαλεῖν and παράκλησις, to denote the act of consoling and consolation, gave rise to the rendering Comforter, which is given in every instance in the Gospel, but is changed to advocate in 1 John 2:1, agreeably to its uniform signification in classical Greek. The argument in favor of this rendering throughout is conclusive. It is urged that the rendering Comforter is justified by the fact that, in its original sense, it means more than a mere consoler, being derived from the Latin confortare, to strengthen, and that the Comforter is therefore one who strengthens the cause and the courage of his client at the bar: but, as Bishop Lightfoot observes, the history of this interpretation shows that it is not reached by this process, but grew out of a grammatical error, and that therefore this account can only be accepted as an apology after the fact, and not as an explanation of the fact (Vincent's Word Studies in the New Testament).
Kittel and Friedrich also demonstrate the non-biblical use of parakletos to indicate “a helper in court who might speak on behalf of those who are accused.” The significance of the word in the NT is considered based upon their acknowledgement that “The limited NT use does not make any consistent impression. In Jn. 2:1 Christ as parakletos is plainly the “advocate” who represents the sinning believer in the Father’s court. In Jn. 16:7ff. the idea of a trial is again present, but here the Spirit is the disciple’s counsellor [sic] in relation to the world, and the context (16:7, 13ff.; 15:26; 14:16-17, 26) might suggest the broader sense of ‘helper.’ The meaning ‘comforter,’ although adopted in some renderings, does not fit any of the passages” (Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, 782-3).
The Holy Spirit was promised to the apostles to aid them in their work of revealing and confirming the gospel of Christ to the world. When this promise was made to the apostles, there was no written New Testament containing the gospel of Christ. The apostles represented the kingdom of Christ as ambassadors, proclaiming the new law of Christ by which, if obeyed, sins could be forgiven, or if rejected, sins would be retained.
The aid of the Spirit was in knowledge, speech, and powers of confirmation; without such the apostles would have been unable to fulfill their role as ambassadors. The miraculous power of the Holy Spirit was the apostolic credentials necessary to authenticate their claim as ambassadors for the kingdom of Christ.
The Holy Spirit was never promised to all believers as a “comforter,” but only to the apostles as an “Advocate” or “Intercessor” who would speak through the apostles, aiding them in their work of revealing and confirming the gospel of Christ. The distribution of the Holy Spirit by the apostles afforded others the miraculous manifestations of the Spirit, but limitations were in place as no one other than the apostles could perform all the signs that belonged uniquely to them as ambassadors for Christ (see 2 Corinthians 12:12; Hebrews 2:3-4).
Danker, F. W. et al. (2000), A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Chicago, IL: University of
Kittel, G. et al. (1985), Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans).
Thayer J. H. (1958), A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Edinburgh, Scotland: T. & T.
Vincent, Marvin (1972), Word Studies in the New Testament (Wilmington, DE: Associated Publishers
Vine, W. E. (1996), Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers).