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PARACLETE păr’ ə klēt (παράκλητος, G4156, advocate). John is the only author in the NT to use the term parákletos (tr. counselor in RSV; comforter in KJV). In 1 John 2:1 he applies it to the exalted Lord; in the gospel he employs it four times (John 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7) to denote Jesus’ description of the Holy Spirit who should continue His ministry to the disciples.

The meaning “advocate” is another equivalent for Paraclete (1 John 2:1) In the Hel. lit. which constitutes the linguistic milieu of the NT, the word, as commonly used, had a legal connotation and referred to one who speaks for someone in the presence of another. When John applied it to the exalted Lord, he was using a legal term to picture the role of Christ as one who pleads the sinner’s cause before the Father. This mode fits well with the basic representation of Christ in the NT as exalted at God’s right hand, there to make intercession for the saints (Rom 8:34). Before the Resurrection, Jesus Himself claimed, in reference to the judgment of the world, that He would be the advocate of those who had confessed Him, and the accuser of those who had denied Him, before His Father in heaven (Matt 10:32f., and parallels). Closely related to this strand of revelation is the larger representation of Christ’s high-priestly ministry in the presence of the Father, which the writer of Hebrews referred to as His entering into the holy place not made with hands, there to make intercession for us (Heb 7-9).

Analyzing the meaning of the term “paraclete” as applied to the Spirit is a more difficult task. When Jesus spoke of “another Counselor” (John 14:16), it implies that the term is being used both of Himself and the one who shall take His place. A few interpreters have understood “another” to be redundant (John 14:16): “And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another [the] counselor, to be with you for ever.” In recent lit., some have suggested a parallel between John the Baptist’s relationship to Jesus and Jesus’ relationship to the Paraclete. As John heralded the coming of the Messiah, so the Messiah heralded the coming of the Spirit. Such interpretations are forced and only marginally advocated.

Assuming, then, that Jesus is a Paraclete and that, when He departed, He sent “another Paraclete,” i.e., the Spirit, the determination of the sense in which Jesus is Himself a Paraclete would seem to enable one to ascertain the meaning of the term as applied to the Holy Spirit. However, matters are not quite that simple. The chief difficulty in following the analogy of 1 John 2:1 and interpreting Paraclete as “Advocate,” when applied to the Spirit, is that the pronouncements in the gospel of John about the ending, the activity, and the nature of the Spirit seem to move on a different plane. Should, then, another term be sought more in keeping with the description given by Jesus of the Spirit’s ministry? What other term would be preferred? This problem has long plagued translators. The KJV uses “Comforter” (as does Luther); the ASV retains “Comforter,” footnoting “Advocate” or “Helper.” The RSV uses “Counselor”; the NEB, “Advocate”; the NASB, “Helper,” with the margin “Intercessor.” Phillips cuts the Gordian knot with “someone else to stand by you.”

If an effort is made to solve this problem by the history of religions approach, one must choose between two possible sources of John’s usage. There is, on the one hand, the figure of the “celestial Helper” found in Gnosticism (particularly in the Mandean lit.) and, on the other, the tradition of an “advocate” for man before God, found in the OT and late Jewish writings. When one makes a close comparison between the Mandean figure of the Helper, and the Johannine description of the Paraclete, the analogy is not sufficiently great to suggest that the latter concept derived from the former.

If the key to the meaning of “Paraclete” is sought in the OT idea of an advocate who speaks for man before God (although scholars are no doubt nearer a solution), questions still remain. The puzzling fact is that the description of the Paraclete’s work as delineated in John’s gospel does not fit well with the idea of the Advocate. In John He is described as the One who teaches the disciples and brings to their memory what Jesus had said (John 14:26); He bears witness to the risen Christ (John 15:26); He convicts the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment to come (John 16:8-11). It would seem, then, that Paraclete, when applied to the Spirit, has less a forensic and more a kerygmatic aspect. Some have sought to reduce the latter to the former by arguing that the Spirit leads the disciples into all the truth in the sense that He defends them, in their striving for the truth in the world, against the condemnation of unbelievers. He becomes their advocate, as they struggle with the world, by bearing an effectual witness in the hearts of their hearers—but this seems strained.

It is true that in Romans 8:26f. Paul writes of the Spirit’s making intercession for us with sighs that cannot be uttered. Jesus promised (Mark 13:11, and parallels) that in the decisive moment, when His disciples were asked to defend themselves, the Spirit would speak for them. When it comes to the meaning of Paraclete in the gospel of John, it can only be said that it has taken on added shades of meaning that make it impossible to tr. it exactly with any word in Eng., except “Paraclete,” if one wants to avoid this strange sounding word, as most translators have wisely chosen to do. (The Douay is the only major VS to read “Paraclete,” along with “parascene of the past” for “preparation of the Passover,” John 19:14, and other linguistic barbarities.) The best he can do is to use a general term like “Helper” or spread out the meaning in a phrase like “One who stands by to help.”

Although the traditional word “Comforter” is not to be altogether excluded from the broader connotation of Paraclete—its illustrious pedigree appears from time to time in the Gr. and Lat. Fathers, and was used by Luther and Wycliffe before the King James—it is not sufficient to establish it as the best term to use. Whereas it is true that Jesus spoke of the Paraclete in a discourse aimed at comforting His disciples (who were saddened by the thought of His leaving them) when He described the Spirit’s ministry, it is not primarily in these terms that He spoke. See Holy Spirit.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)


1. Where Used:

This word occurs 5 times in the New Testament, all in the writings of John. Four instances are in the Gospel and one in the First Epistle. In the Gospel the in the Epistle, 1 Joh 2:1. "Paraclete" is simply the Greek word transferred into English. The translation of the word in English Versions of the Bible is "Comforter" in the Gospel, and "Advocate" in the Epistle. The Greek word is parakletos, froth the verb parakaleo. The word for "Paraclete" is passive in form, and etymologically signifies "called to one’s side." The active form of the word is parakletor, not found in the New Testament but found in Septuagint in Job 16:2 in the plural, and means "comforters," in the saying of Job regarding the "miserable comforters" who came to him in his distress.

2. General Meaning:

In general the word signifies:

(1) a legal advocate, or counsel for defense,

(2) an intercessor,

(3) a helper, generally.

The first, or technical, judicial meaning is that which predominates in classical usage, corresponding to our word "advocate," "counsel," or "attorney." The corresponding Latin word is advocatus, "advocate," the word applied to Christ in English Versions of the Bible in the translation of the Greek word parakletos, in 1 Joh 2:1. There is some question whether the translation "Comforter" in the passages of John’s Gospel in the King James Version and the Revised Version (British and American) is warranted by the meaning of the word. It is certain that the meaning "comforter" is not the primary signification, as we have seen. It is very probably, however, a secondary meaning of the word, and some of its cognates clearly convey the idea of comfort in certain connections, both in Septuagint and in the New Testament (Ge 37:35; Zec 1:13; Mt 5:4; 2Co 1:3,4). In the passage in 2 Corinthians the word in one form or another is used 5 times and in each means "comfort." In none of these instances, however, do we find the noun "Paraclete," which we are now considering.

3. In the Talmud and Targums:

Among Jewish writers the word "Paraclete" came to have a number of meanings. A good deed was called a paraclete or advocate, and a transgression was an accuser. Repentance and good works were called paracletes: "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." The sin offering is a paraclete; the paraclete created by each good deed is called an angel (Jewish Encyclopedia, IX, 514-15, article "Paraclete").

4. As Employed by Philo:

Philo employs the word in several instances. Usually he does not use it in the legal, technical sense. Joseph is represented as bestowing forgiveness on his brethren who had wronged him and declaring that they needed "no one else as paraclete," or intercessor (De Joseph c. 40). In his Life of Moses, iii.14, is a remarkable passage which indicates Philo’s spiritualizing methods of interpreting Scripture as well as reflects his philosophic tendency. At the close of a somewhat elaborate account of the emblematic significance of the vestments of the high priest and their jeweled decorations, his words are: "The twelve stones arranged on the breast in four rows of three stones each, namely, the logeum, being also an emblem of that reason which holds together and regulates the universe. For it was indispensable (anagkaion) 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 the forgiveness of sins, and a supply of unlimited blessings." This is rather a striking verbal or formal parallel to the statement in 1 Joh 2:1 where Christ is our Advocate with the Father, although of course Philo’s conceptions of the Divine "reason" and "son" are by no means the Christian conceptions.

5. The Best Translation:

If now we raise the question what is the best translation of the term "Paraclete" in the New Testament, we have a choice of several words. Let us glance at them in order. The translation "Comforter" contains an element of the meaning of the word as employed in the Gospels, and harmonizes with the usage in connection with its cognates, but it is too narrow in meaning to be an adequate translation. Dr. J. Hastings in an otherwise excellent article on the Paraclete in HDB says the Paraclete was not sent to comfort the disciples, since prior to His actual coming and after Christ’s promise the disciples’ sorrow was turned into joy. Dr. Hastings thinks the Paraclete was sent to cure the unbelief or half-belief of the disciples. But this conceives the idea of comfort in too limited a way. No doubt in the mind of Jesus the comforting aspect, of the Spirit’s work applied to all their future sorrows and trials, and not merely to comfort for their personal loss in the going of Christ to the Father. Nevertheless there was more in the work of the Paraclete than comfort in sorrow. "Intercessor" comes nearer the root idea of the term and contains an essential part of the meaning. "Advocate" is a closely related word, and is also suggestive of the work of the Spirit. Perhaps there is no English word broad enough to cover all the significance of the word "Paraclete" except the word "Helper." The Spirit helps the disciples in all the above-indicated ways. Of course the objection to this translation is that it is too indefinite. The specific Christian conception is lost in the comprehensiveness of the term. Our conclusion, therefore, is that the term "Paraclete" itself would perhaps be the best designation of the Spirit in the passage in John’s Gospel. It would thus become a proper name for the Spirit and the various elements of meaning would come to be associated with the words which are found in the context of the Gospel.

Christianity introduced many new ideas into the world for which current terms were inadequate media of expression. In some cases it is best to adopt the Christian term itself, in our translations, and let the word slowly acquire its own proper significance in our thought and life. If, however, instead of translating we simply transfer the word "Paraclete" as a designation of the Holy Spirit in the Gospel passages, we would need then to translate it in the passage in the Epistle where it refers to Christ. But this would offer no serious difficulty. For fortunately in the Epistle the word may very clearly be translated "Advocate" or "Intercessor."

6. Christ’s Use of the Word:

We look next at the contents of the word as employed by Jesus in reference to the Holy Spirit. In Joh 14:16 the Paraclete is promised as one who is to take the place of Jesus. It is declared elsewhere by Jesus that it is expedient that He go away, for unless He go away the Paraclete will not come (Joh 16:7). Is the Paraclete, then, the successor or the substitute for Christ as He is sometimes called? The answer is that He is both and neither. He is the successor of Christ historically, but not in the sense that Christ ceases to act in the church. He is the substitute for Christ’s physical presence, but only in order that He may make vital and actual Christ’s spiritual presence. As we have seen, the Paraclete moves only in the range of truths conveyed in and through Christ as the historical manifestation of God. A "Kingdom of the Spirit," therefore, is impossible in the Christian sense, save as the historical Jesus is made the basis of the Spirit’s action in history. The promise of Jesus in 14:18, "I come unto," is parallel and equivalent in meaning with the preceding promise of the Paraclete. The following are given as the specific forms of activity of the Holy Spirit:

(1) to show them the things of Christ,

(2) to teach them things to come,

(3) to teach them all things,

(4) to quicken their memories for past teaching,

(5) to bear witness to Christ,

(6) to dwell in believers,

(7) other things shown in the context such as "greater works" than those of Christ (see Joh 14:16,17),

(8) to convict of sin, of righteousness and judgment.

It is possible to range the shades of meaning outlined above under these various forms of the Spirit’s activity. As Comforter His work would come under (1), (2), (3) and (6); as Advocate and Intercessor under (6), (7), (8); as Helper and Teacher under (1), (2), (3), (4), (5), (6), (7), (8).

The manner of the sending of the Paraclete is of interest. In Joh 14:16 the Paraclete comes in answer to Christ’s prayer. The Father will give the Spirit whom the world cannot receive. In Joh 14:26 the Father will send the Spirit in Christ’s name. Yet in 15:26 Christ says, "I will send (him) unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth," and in 16:7, "If I go, I will send him unto you."

See Holy Spirit.

7. As Applied to Christ:

It remains to notice the passage in 1 Joh 2:1 where the term "Paraclete" is applied to Christ: "If any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous"; 2:2 reads: "and he is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for the whole world." Here the meaning is quite clear and specific. Jesus Christ the righteous is represented as our Advocate or Intercessor with the Father. His righteousness is set over against our sin. Here the Paraclete, Christ, is He who, on the basis of His propitiatory offering for the sins of men, intercedes for them with God and thus averts from them the penal consequences of their transgressions. The sense in which Paraclete is here applied to Christ is found nowhere in the passages we have cited from the Gospel. The Holy Spirit as Paraclete is Intercessor or Advocate, but not in the sense here indicated. The Spirit as Paraclete convicts the world of sin, of righteousness and judgment. Jesus Christ as Paraclete vindicates believers before God.


Grimm-Thayer, Gr-Eng. Lexicon of the New Testament; Cremer, Biblico-Theol. Lexicon; HDB, article "Paraclete"; DCG, article "Paraclete"; EB, article "Paraclete"; Jew Encyclopedia, article "Paraclete"; Hare, Mission of the Comforter; Pearson, On the Creed; Taylor, Sayings of the Jewish Fathers; various comms., Westcott, Godet and others.

See list of books appended to article on HOLY SPIRIT.

E. Y. Mulhns

See also

  • Holy Spirit
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