The conventional answer to this question, according to the doctrine of the Trinity, is that the Comforter is the Third Person of the Holy Trinity, the Holy Spirit. However that is not the view of the the owners of and contributors to this Bible Answers website, and it is also an answer which comes from 3rd and 4th Century theology, not from the Bible itself.  Please first see the separate page on ‘What is the “Holy Spirit”?‘.

The word Paraclete.

The term is used three times of ‘The Spirit of Truth’ in John 14, 15, 16.

John 14:16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper,[1] to be with you forever,
[1]Or Advocate, or Counselor; also 14:26; 15:26; 16:7 (ESV with footnote)

Then again, of Christ, in 1 John.

1 John 2: 1 My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.

The original Greek word is ‘paraclete’, from the verb parakaleo, to call alongside, and is not very common in Greek secular texts where the main uses are concerning legal advocates and lobbyists (Demosthenes Speeches 19:1, Diogenes Laërtius 4:50).

Citizens of Athens, I do not doubt that you are all pretty well aware that this trial has been the center of keen partisanship and active canvassing, for you saw the people who were accosting and annoying you just now at the casting of lots. But I have to make a request which ought to be granted without asking, that you will all give less weight to private entreaty or personal influence than to the spirit of justice and to the oath which you severally swore when you entered that box. You will reflect that justice and the oath concern yourselves and the commonwealth, whereas the importunity and party spirit of advocates [paracletes] serve the end of those private ambitions which you are convened by the laws to thwart, not to encourage for the advantage of evil-doers. (Demosthenes, Speeches 19:1)

Jewish usage of ‘Paraclete’

The word does not occur in the Greek OT, though a related form is found once in Job 16:2. However the word appears to have been more common in Jewish Greek texts, and is frequent in the writings of Philo where it is used several times of  advocates, heavenly and earthly:

  • God not urged on by any advocate in creating the world (On the Creation of the World 6/23)
  • the persuasion of the senses as a deceptive advocate (On the Creation of the World 59/165)
  • his brothers needed no other advocate (Joseph 40/)
  • the late Macro as adviser and advocate to Emperor Tiberius (The Complaint of the Jews regarding Flaccus, Prefect of Egypt 3/13)
  • The Jewish community of Alexandria as the advocate to Emperor Gaius for the Jews of Egypt (Flaccus 4/22),
  • The High Priest “For it was indispensable that the man who was consecrated to the Father of the world, should have as a paraclete, his son, the being most perfect in all virtue, to procure forgiveness of sins, and a supply of unlimited blessings” (Yonge translation, Life of Moses II:134).

Philo’s usage must have been widespread among 1stC Jews since the Greek word became of the few Greek terms to pass directly into the Hebrew vocabulary as a foreign loan word in later Rabbinical Hebrew (spelled out as ‘pe-ra-k-liy-t’ in Hebrew script), for example the Targum on Job 26:20 and 33:23 where the interceding angel is called a ‘pe-ra-k-liy-t’ in Hebrew, a paraclete. (Babylonian Talmud Shabbat/Sabbath 32a). “The works of benevolence and mercy done by the people of Israel in this world become agents of peace and intercessors [paracletes] between them and their Father in heaven” (Babylonian Talmud Baba Bathra/The Last Gate 10a;  Tosefta Peah/Gleanings 4:21). The sin-offering is like the paraclete before God; it intercedes for man and is followed by another offering, a “thank-offering for the pardon obtained” (Sifra Meẓora’ 3:3,  Tosefta Parah/Red Heifer 1:1). The two daily burnt offerings are called “the two paracletes” (Jerusalem Talmud Berakoth/Benedictions 4: 7b), and the four kinds of plants at the Feast of Tabernacles are termed “paracletes” for the year’s rain (Jerusalem Talmud Ta’anit/Days of Fasting 1:63c). The paraclete or intercessor created through each good deed is called “angel” (Exodus Rabba 32, re. Psalm 34:8)

There is a very wide range of translations in English Bibles: Comforter (Wycliffe, Tyndale, KJV, ASV), Helper (ESV, NASB, NJKV), Advocate (NAB, NEB), Counselor (NIV), Paraclete (Douay-Rheims Version)

Personification

It is often thought that the personification of the Advocate is connected to the use of the masculine pronoun ‘he’, rather than ‘it’ which is used for the Spirit of Truth. It may even be said, incorrectly (by misreading the syntax), that ‘he’ (masculine pronoun) is used of Spirit (neuter noun), and that this proves that the Spirit of Truth is a person. Both of these ideas are based on a misunderstanding caused by English not having grammatical gender. In languages with 3 grammatical ‘genders’ (masculine, neuter, feminine) the grammatical gender has no fixed relation to actual gender or personhood. For example, in German the noun “girl” (Mädchen) is neuter, and takes the neuter pronoun “it” (es), but that doesn’t mean that the girl is an “it”, that’s simply grammatical agreement. Likewise in John 14 “advocate” (parakletos) is a masculine noun so must take a masculine pronoun “he”, while “spirit” (pneuma) is a neuter noun so must take a neuter pronoun “it”. But the “he” and “it” do not indicate a person or a thing. “He” can mean “it”, and “it” can mean “he”. Spirit being neuter doesn’t prove that it is a thing, and Advocate being masculine doesn’t prove that it is a thing. Personhood can only be determined from how the person or thing is described.

Then also we have the problem that the ancient world, and in particularly Jewish texts, both OT era and NT era, are much more likely to use personification than modern westerners, including most English speakers. Apart from describing a ship or a hurricane as “she”, or characterising winter as “Jack Frost”, personification is far from common in modern English. But in the Bible personification is everywhere – nations, wisdom (most famously in Proverbs 1-9), folly, winter, old age, hunger, alcohol, war, plague, pleasure, sin, flesh, death, the grave, temptation, the church… the list is considerable.

The surrounding context of John 14-16 does indicate that the Spirit of Truth  is personified as the Advocate, but that does not in itself tell us that the Advocate must be a person, though it is possible, and we will see below that some of the options for the identity of the Advocate are in fact persons. But then again, it does not have to be.

So who or what is the Advocate?

The simplest answer is that the Advocate is what Jesus says it is ‘The Spirit of Truth’.

Although this answer seems too simple to be true, it has a lot to recommend it. Even at the level of an overview of the most familiar verses connecting “spirit” and “truth” it is clear that the coming of a “spirit” of “truth” is not just limited to the Advocate passages, but becomes a theme also in the letters of Paul:

John 4:23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.

John 4:24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

John 14:17 even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.

John 15:26 “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, which proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.

John 16:13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.

Romans 9:1 I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit—

1 Corinthians 2:13 And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.

Ephesians 1:13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit,

2 Thessalonians 2:13 But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits[1] to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth.
[1]Some manuscripts chose you from the beginning

1 John 4:6 We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.

1 John 5:6 This is he who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ; not by the water only but by the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth.

The above examples show that Paul’s treatment of the “Spirit” and “truth” are perfectly consistent with a reading of Christ’s own identification of the Advocate as “the spirit of truth” in John ch.14-16.

List of candidates

Beyond the above identification, as “the Spirit of Truth”, the candidates for the identity of the Advocate are

  1. “The Third Person of the Trinity”
  2. Holy Spirit Gifts
  3. The New Testament
  4. Paul
  5. Holy Spirit Wisdom/Guidance/Providence
  6. Christ himself — or rather the presence of Christ in the church
  • Option 1 we  can leave out here (see pages dealing with the Holy Spirit, The Trinity, etc.).
  • Option 2 requires more discussion (which follows immediately below)
  • Options 3-5 fall down on the narrowness of the definition, in practice 3-5 are different aspects of Option 6.
  • Which brings us back to Christ himself.

But first, why not the spirit gifts?

The first reason relates to the meaning of “of”. The gifts/powers “of” the Spirit, cannot be the spirit itself, or the word “of” is redundant. (see also page dealing with the Holy Spirit)

The second reason why the Advocate cannot be the gifts of the Spirit is simply that Christ identifies the Advocate as the “Spirit of Truth”. There is no mention of “gifts” in John ch14-16. In fact the Gospel of a John as a whole shows no interest in the subject of the Pentecost powers. As far as John is concerned the promise of the Spirit is fulfilled in John 20:22

The third reason is that the spirit of Truth, the Advocate is meant to be with the church all the time when Jesus in person is not. That cannot be claimed for the gifts.

1Co13:8 Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away.

That the gifts fail to meet the qualifications of the “Spirit of Truth” promised in John ch.14-16 is evident even from 1 Corinthians itself, where context shows that the gifts were failing and tongues already had ceased (compare 1Co14:2 with Acts 2:6,8,11) even when Paul was writing (also see ‘Have the Holy Spirit gifts died out?‘). It also fails the Deuteronomy 13:3 test that even successful miracles were no guarantee of truth, but just the opposite.

But if Christ says “another” Advocate, how can it be Christ?

At first sight it would seem impossible that ‘The Spirit of Truth’ in John 14, 15, 16 could be Christ himself, since he calls it, “another” Advocate.

John 14:16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever,

Which leads to the idea that there are two Advocates, a second one on earth (John 14,15,16) and then the first one in heaven:

1 John 2: 1 My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.

However, this may be a misreading of what Jesus is saying. It may be that he is saying he will come again and be present in a different way.

John 14: 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am [when I come again] you may be also.

18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.

28 You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I will come to you.’

This idea, like many in John, is not simple, and often takes time to ‘settle in’. The most persuasive argument is in reading and re-reading of the three “Spirit of Truth” chapters, 14,15,16, to see that even if Christ is not actually ‘here’ in the same sense that he is “with the Father” in 1 John 2:1, he does say in 14,15,16 that both he and the Father will come and make their “dwelling” (14:23 is the only other NT use of the word sometimes rendered “mansions” in 14:2) with the disciples in the church not only at the second coming, but before, and now.

John 14:23 Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home (Greek mone, same as KJV ‘mansion’) with him.

John 16:7 Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.

The main thing in favour of this idea is overall context – the fact is the relationship between God and man only has “one mediator” (1Tim.2:5), “the man Christ Jesus”. That means that if the “Advocate” and “Spirit of Truth” contains any element of Christ’s own activity, then inevitably we are forced to see Christ as the major person in the promise of “anoher advocate”, simply because there is no other person between God and man, so there is no other advocate. The main argument in favour of Christ himself, in a different role, himself being the “another advocate” he promised, is the lack of other persons to concretely be between man and God.

1 Timothy 2:5 For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,

Conclusion

There is in fact no real dichotomy. The “Spirit of Truth” does mean the spirit of discerment and rightness in the church (i.e. the “Spirit of Truth” = the spirit of truth, it’s that simple), but for Christ to “send” something that something which is sent can ultimately only be himself. Even the New Testament does not exist independently of Christ’s involvement in creating the circumstances and even words of the books. This is most obvious with Paul, but it is equally true of Matthew, John, Peter, his disciples, and the other authors and books they wrote. They also were chosen by Christ for that task – according to the claims of Peter (1Pe.1:12) John (John 21:24) and Paul (2Pe.3:15)

So the “another advocate”, is probably actually the same “advocate” as 1John 2:1, the Advocate promised by Christ is Christ himself, among his believers here and now.

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