One of the enduring features of English common law is that it is based on the adversarial system of justice. This gives rise to the practice of advocacy, where parties are represented by advocates who argue out their client’s respective cases in the presence of an impartial adjudicator. It is in sharp contrast to an inquisitorial system of justice, where the case at issue is investigated by either a presiding judge, or more than one judge. This notion of a representative, or someone who pleads on behalf of another, is relevant to the meaning of the rare Greek noun parákletos, which is used in a judicial sense in both the Old Testament and Rabbinic literature.1 It is a derivative of the Greek verb parakaleo, which was used in a less judicial sense to describe acts of comfort or encouragement, e.g., 2 Cor. 1. 6; Eph. 6. 22.
In the Septuagint (LXX) the noun parákletos is rarely used, although it is found more frequently in the book of Job than anywhere else. In Job chapter 16 verse 2, Job criticizes his so-called comforters, who, in the trial of his faith, are found to be incompetent advocates. They pretend to be friends of the accused, but instead of speaking well of Job’s character and thereby enlisting the sympathy of God as judge, they reveal their own short-comings, and their self-serving interests. In fact, the whole drama of the story is demonstrated through a judicial process that proves that Job was ‘blameless and upright’, Job 1. 1 NKJV, or ultimately declared sadaq (‘righteous’).2 Barclay points to the fact that parákletos became transliterated into later Jewish language, and that in the Targum translation of Job chapter 33 verse 23, Elihu tells Job that in order to redeem man from going down into the pit, a special angelic agency, a mediator, an interpreter, a parákletos is necessary.3 A parallel to this can be seen in Zechariah chapter 3 verse 1 et seq where the angel of the Lord intercedes for the high priest Joshua. As the word was mainly associated with a legal context, especially in day-today matters, it was used to describe a legal assistant, or advocate in a court of justice. For example, in the writings of the famous ancient Greek logographer and lawyer Demosthenes (circa 4th century BC), reference is made to a person who comes to the aid of another in a judicial setting as a parákletos.4 Similarly, the church historian Eusebius refers to a man named Epagathos who acts as the parákletos for persecuted brethren before the local governor.5 What is interesting to note about the use of parákletos by these writers is that there is no hint that the representative gave any form of comfort to the defendant, but that they merely helped to plead the cause of the accused. But this representation was not considered to be of a professional nature where a different Greek word for legal representative, syndikos, would have been used. It may well be that the later Latin translation of the Greek word parákletos by advocatus has somewhat coloured our understanding of the term advocate, as implying a professional calling or hiring a lawyer, rather than identifying someone who simply comes to the help or aid of another. And this latter meaning is certainly what we find not only in religious rabbinic texts, but also in Mandaean writings of the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD.6
When we turn to the New Testament, parákletos is exclusively restricted to the writings of John, but the concept of a supporter, or friend of the accused, is also present in Paul’s writings, e.g., Rom. 8. 26-34. Deissmann mentions the fact that the work of the advocate in the Hellenistic world in which Paul lived was so common that many of the speaking examples were made into reports of actual cases, cp. today’s All English Law Reports.7 One difficulty that our English translators have had to cope with is the multifarious nature of the word parákletos, which does not have a direct English equivalent. Even though John uses it on only five occasions, selecting the appropriate English word in each context continues to be a challenge for translators.8 The table below provides a suggested guide to John’s use of the word parákletos in context.
|John 14. 16||(another) Comforter (RV)
(another) Counsellor (NIV)
(another) Encourager (NRSV)
(another) Advocate/Helper (NKJV)
|Here our Lord makes provision for His disciples after His own ministry as a parákletos on earth has ended. The gift of the Holy Spirit (another parákletos) is linked directly to a formal request by Christ. In verse 26, the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father, and is sent by Christ in chapter 16 verse 7. Since the context is about the exodus of Christ, then the sense of loss would have been poignantly felt by the disciples. The use of such words as Comforter (someone who strengthened someone else), and Helper seem therefore apposite.|
|John 16. 7||(your) Advocate (NEB)
He who is to befriend you (Knox)
(the) Counsellor (NIV)
(the) Helper (ESV)
|This is probably the only context within John’s gospel that requires parákletos to be translated by the word Advocate. As Carson states, ‘In John’s usage, the legal overtones are sharpest in 16.7-11, but there the Paraclete serves rather more as a prosecuting attorney than as counsel for the defence … and even so, the Paraclete’s ministry extends beyond the legal sphere’.9|
|John 15. 26||(the) one coming to stand by you (Phillips)
(the) Counsellor (NIV)
(the) Advocate (NRSV)
(the) Helper (NKJV)
|Although the context here is similar to that in chapter 14 verse 26, the thrust of the ministry of the parákletos (Holy Spirit) is now focused on empowering the disciples in their witness for and to Christ. Thus, the idea of someone coming to stand by them, to help them in their witness, seems to be appropriate.|
|1 John 2. 1||(an) advocate (KJV)
(we have) a Counsel for defence (Berkeley)
(we have) one to plead our cause (NEB)
|Here John reveals part of the current ministry of the parákletos (Christ Himself) exercised for us in heaven. Perhaps Counsel for the defence appositely sums up our Lord’s work as He pleads our cause with the Father and those who accuse us.|
|John 14. 26||(the) Comforter (KJV)
(the) Counsellor (NIV)
(the) Advocate (NRSV)
(the) Helper (ESV)
|Here the context is slightly different in that the ministry of the parákletos (the Holy Spirit) is extended to fill out the teaching of Christ, words such as Counsellor or Helper seem therefore apt.|
It is a great comfort to know that not only do we have a parákletos on earth supporting us, but also one in heaven interceding for us. Whom then shall we fear, Rom. 8. 31. Or, in the words of John Newton, ‘Against me earth and hell combine, but on my side is power divine’.10
J. Behm (TDNT) states that the rabbis have parákletos as a loan word and use it for advocate before God.
For a more in-depth study of sadaq and its cognates see ‘Word for Today’ in Precious Seed International, 2010, Vol. 65. 3.
New Testament Words, pg. 219.
Desmosthenes, 19, 1.
Ecclesiastical History 5. 1. 10.
The Mandaeans were a dualistic religious group famous for their Gnostic view of Christianity.
Deissmann, A., Light from the Ancient East, pg. 336.
Unsurprisingly, the Amplified New Testament gives the complete semantic range!
The Gospel According to John, pg. 499.
Hymn XLVI – Olney Hymns.
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