The Holy Spirit comes alongside us to bear our burdens, defend us, and give us strength and courage. Today, Barry Cooper examines a Greek word that richly illustrates our relationship with Christ and His Spirit.
I recently e-mailed an American friend because I needed to change our plans. Naturally, I apologized for the faff.
“A faff?” he said. “What’s a faff?”
A faff, I explained patiently, is much like a kerfuffle.
“What’s a kerfuffle?” he said.
“Oh, come on,” I said. “You must have ‘kerfuffle.’ It’s like a palaver.”
“A palaver?” he said. “Is that like ‘shooting the breeze’?”
“Why don’t you speak English?” I said. “I’ve no idea what you’re talking about.”
There’s an important Greek word in the New Testament that is similarly tricky to translate. The word is paraclete, and it’s used by Jesus both as a name for the Holy Spirit and also for Himself.
Part of the difficulty of translating the word paraclete is that it has several different senses. The first sense is “helper.”
In John chapter 14, verse 16, Jesus says, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever.”
Jesus is talking about the Holy Spirit there, but notice that word “another” Helper. Another Helper? Who was the first Helper?
Remarkably, the answer to that is Jesus Himself. How do you feel about being called a helper? I suspect most of us instinctively think it’s a little beneath us. But here is the second person of the Trinity describing Himself in exactly those terms—as our Helper.
As it says in Hebrews 13:6: “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?”
The Holy Spirit—because He is, after all, Christ’s Spirit—is also a paraclete, a helper.
Literally, the Greek word paraklētos means “someone who is called to come alongside someone else.” In Greek culture, a paraclete was like a family attorney. We Brits would say a “barrister” (which is not to be confused with a “barista,” a person who works in Starbucks).
So, a paraclete was someone who came alongside people and defended them, who protected them in times of trouble. He was someone who came alongside the weak to give them strength and courage, especially in the context of being persecuted. This is what some older translations are getting at when they translate paraclete as “comforter.”
Another sense of the word paraclete is the word used to translate it in the book of 1 John. There, the word is translated “advocate”: “My little children [John writes], I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate [a paraclete] with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.”
In other words, we’re to think of Jesus—and by implication His Spirit—as One who pleads for us, on our behalf, if we sin.
That’s exactly the picture we get elsewhere in the New Testament. In Hebrews 7, for example, Christ is spoken of as “making intercession” for his people, and Romans 8 says that He is “at the right hand of God . . . interceding for us.”
If you are in Christ, then Christ—as your paraclete, your advocate—is able to plead, on the basis of his own blood, that you are perfectly righteous, even if you sin.
So that is the Paraclete. The One who is alongside us. The One who bears our burdens and defends us. The One who gives us strength and courage.