Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Is the Trinity found in John’s Gospel?

             For the first essay on the Trinity see "Is the Holy Spirit Part of a Trinity?" Nov 26, 2015.            
            Toward the end of the first century the situation is remarkably different from what I found in the letters of Paul at the middle of the century.  Around the end of the century, the Gospel of John makes a definite advance in defining the relationship between Jesus and God, but there is no stated concept of a Triune God—i.e., Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as three persons conceptualized as One God.  Conceptualizing and describing a divine Trinity requires abstract logical thinking and systematic description, which are not found in John.
            In John God is understood as spirit (John 4:24), which seems to describe God's nature or character (spirit; not the spirit, which indicates identity).  Jesus is presented as God's "son" (1:49; 5:18; 10:36; 11:27; 19:7; 20:31).  The son (1:14), was "with God" and "was God" (1:1-2, 18), and came forth from God, having been sent here by God (8:42).  He became flesh (1:14; not quite the same as being born a human being). The essential identity of God and Jesus is made certain by the confession of Thomas: "My Lord and my God" (20:28).  Other less certain clues appear in John reflecting an identity (10:30; 17:11, 21-22). The unity is apparently primordial (17:24). No attempt is made by the writer, however, to explain how that unity/identity could be so.  In John there seems to be a duality of two distinct personae conceived as One God.
            How the holy spirit should be conceived in relation to the divine Duality, however, is complicated, and unclear.  At the beginning of Jesus' public life, John the baptizer testifies that he saw the spirit descend and remain (1:32) on Jesus, who as a result baptizes with (in?) the holy spirit (1:33).  The descending spirit must also be holy, for the "Father" is holy (17:11) and is apparently the source of the holy spirit with which Jesus baptizes. The spirit is thus involved in the activities of Jesus (3:3-8; 4:23-24; 6:63), and God is not stingy in giving the spirit (3:34).
            On one occasion, however, surprisingly an intrusive explanatory voice interrupts the narrative, asserting that there was no spirit yet, for Jesus had not yet been "glorified" (7:39) ("glorification" is a cryptic allusion to the crucifixion/resurrection, 12:23-24, 27-33; 17:1-5).  Hence 7:39 clearly contradicts 1:32-33, for spirit remains with Jesus through his career enabling his words (6:63), making true worship possible (4:23-24), and generating new birth (3:3-8). Opposed to this idea that the spirit is active in the public life of Jesus is the surprising statement at the end of the Gospel that the holy spirit is finally given (20:22-23).
            Before the crucifixion, Jesus tells his followers that he is going to the one who sent him (16:7) and at his departure the paraclete (16:4b-11) will come to them. The meaning of this word is unclear and translations vary.  Immediately following this statement his followers learn that another figure is also coming to them: the spirit of truth (16:13).  The temptation is to harmonize and read the paraclete and the spirit of truth as one and the same, but the figures have different functions: paraclete (16:8-11); spirit of truth (16:13-14).  Nevertheless the two figures are awkwardly identified as one and the same at (14:16-17)—how seriously should one regard the reference to "another paraclete" (14:16)?  Should one consider the spirit of truth as an additional (second) paraclete?
            The holy spirit is awkwardly identified as the paraclete in 14:25-26, almost as an afterthought.  Its appearance in 14:26 seems like an intrusion into the sentence, similar to the explanatory observation at 7:39 (among many others).  All three figures paraclete, spirit of truth (i.e., paraclete #2?), and holy spirit have different functions, but they all come to replace Jesus, the son (14:25-26, 16:7-8, 16:12-13).  This/these figures are not clearly identified as one with Jesus in the same sense that Jesus was identified with God; rather they are cast as performing Jesus' role in the community after he is gone. The language the writer of John employs to describe Jesus in relation to them puts a certain distance between Jesus, the paraclete, and the spirit of truth.  John 14:25-26: "paraclete, whom the father will send in my [Jesus'] name; he will remind you all I have said"; 16:14: "He [spirit of truth] will glorify me"; 16:7: "I will send him [paraclete] to you. . ." This language, carefully distinguishing between Jesus and the figure(s) who replace him, does not encourage a reader to sense a close unity or union between the son and his replacement(s).
            There are no Trinitarian formulae in John, the closest statement to such an idea being John 1:32-34, and John does not seem to be aware of the later theological concept Father, Son, Holy Spirit—three figures in one Godhead.
Charles W. Hedrick
Professor Emeritus
Missouri State University


Cody Hayes said...

I agree with your closing statement. The theology of the Trinity, as it was defined at Nicaea (325 CE) and Constantinople (381 CE), represent a later theological development. I will agree that the beginnings of that doctrine can trace their origins in John's Gospel, but at the same time, I could also understand different interpretations to those passages in general.

Elizabeth said...

Charlie, would the author of John had access to the Septuigant? It confounds me that the authors of the synoptic gospels did not even use the word paraclete. I don't understand why the author of John's gospel couldn't find a word with Hebrew origins to explain the spirit aspect of Jesus since Jesus was a descendant of David. Of course, some believe that Jesus was referring to Muhammed when he supposedly spoke of another messenger of truth. Whether or not Jesus actually spoke of another coming paraclete is a different subject entirely.

Thank you for this article and for outlining the different functions of "paraclete" and their lack of continuity between Jesus and the spirit of truth. Elizabeth Holmes

Charles Hedrick said...

Good afternoon Elizabeth,
John does know the Septuagint. Here are a few overlaps between the two:
Jn 1:23 = Isa 40:3; Jn 2:17 = Ps 69:8; Jn 10:34 = Ps 82:6; Jn 19:36 = Exod 12:46 and Ps 34:20.
There is no evidence that John knows the Hebrew text.

Anonymous said...

This is what I have been able to glean concerning the Spirit of Truth, Consoler, Comforter, Advocate, “and the trinity”.

“Now the Lord IS that Spirit: and where the Spirit OF THE Lord [Jesus Christ] is, there is liberty" (2 Corinthians 3:17) (there is freedom in truth, “And the truth shall set you free”)

“So if the SON sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (Jn 8:36) [the son is the truth]

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, “full of” grace and “truth”. (Jn 1:14)

Who or What is this spirit, holy spirit, holy ghost, spirit of truth, comforter? Is it really the third person of a triune God? Let Jesus Himself answer:

"IN THAT DAY [the day when the comforter comes] you shall know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I IN YOU" (Jn 14:20).

"Now the consoler [comforter], THE HOLY SPIRIT, which the Father will be sending IN MY NAME, that will be teaching you all, and reminding you of all that I said to you" (Jn 14:26).

"I will NOT leave you bereaved [comfortless], I am coming to you [in the form of the comforter and spirit of truth]" (Jn 14:18).

"I am going, and I AM COMING TO YOU" (Jn 14:28).

Notice that Christ sends the comforter from the Father and what Jesus instructs. And notice that it does not involve a third person of a fabled trinity:

“All, whatever the Father has, is MINE.”

"Yet whenever that may be coming--the spirit of truth [Jesus said that HE is the Truth]--it will be guiding you in to all the truth, for it will NOT be speaking from itself [it is NOT A GOD], but whatsoever it should be hearing [from Whom sent it] will it be speaking, and of what is coming will it be informing you. That will be glorifying ME, seeing that of MINE will it be getting, and informing you. All, whatever the Father has, is MINE. THEREFORE I said to you that OF MINE IS IT GETTING, AND WILL BE INFORMING YOU." (John 16:13-15).

"But he Comforter [Greek, parakletos, also called the Consoler, and in I John 2:1, Advocate in KJV, and Entreater in the [CLNT] which IS the Holy Spirit, Whom the Father will send in My name, He shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever ” I” have said unto you" (Jn 14:26).

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

In the CLNT it reads :
"And if anyone should be sinning, we have an Entreater with the Father, Jesus Christ, the Just."

This should not be this confusing, The spirit of Truth is Christ. The comforter is Christ. The advocator is Christ. The spirit will be speaking TO the disciples THROUGH Christ’s spirit which is HIS because the Father GAVE this spirit TO HIM.

There is no trinity here.
The trinity is just another man made theological tree that we’re constantly having to peer around and peek thru when seeking TRUTH. While never getting to see the Forest for the trinity.

Rick from Missouri

Elizabeth said...

Good morning,

It would be very interesting to find a scripture where Jesus states he is the spirit of truth... Or that the spirit of truth is Christ. Where is that particular verse in John's gospel? Many people seem to be intrigued by that idea and perspective. I appreciate Charlie's blog because he directs our attention towards what the scripture says rather than what he thinks it means.

Elizabeth Holmes

Charles Hedrick said...

Hi Rick, and other readers,
A few points of clarification and a question:
1. CLNT is the abbreviation for Concordant Literal Version of the New Testament (I think). I had to look it up on the WEB, and I have never used it.
2. In his string of Bible verses Rick is not describing John's views; rather he is describing his view of the nature of reality--his belief about the way things are with God. There is not anything wrong about expressing one's faith, but it important to keep the perspective straight. And I am pretty sure that Rick thinks that John agrees with his view.
3. A question for Rick: Is Jesus God (or vice as versa)? Or do we have two distinct divine figures in Christian Divinity. I ask the question because you subsumed the Spirit/Holy Spirit into God as an extension of the one God but not as a different figure of the "Godhead." Is that also true about the Son?

Charles Hedrick said...

Good Morning Elizabeth,
The closest passage to what you want (that I know of) is John 14:6. But it does not identify Jesus as the spirit of truth.