By: Matt1618



In this paper I will focus on one particular aspect of the Holy Spirit, as shown in the Gospel of John. This aspect is the title, ‘The Holy Spirit of Truth.’ The Bible shows us that the person of the Holy Spirit performs many roles in the life of the believer. The Holy Spirit distributes different gifts to believers for the edification of them and for the church (1 Cor. 12). The Spirit’s sanctification of the believer brings about his salvation (2 Thes. 2:13). Only the Holy Spirit can make one say Jesus is Lord (1 Cor. 12:13). He brings about the renewal of the individual and is poured out into the life of the believer when he is justified (Tit. 3:5-7). It is only by the Holy Spirit that Christians can put to death the deeds of the flesh (Rom. 8:13; Gal. 5:24-25). The Holy Spirit produces fruit in the life of the believer (Gal. 5:22-23) from whose end is Eternal life (Gal. 6:8-9). There are other roles of the Holy Spirit as well; nevertheless, here I will focus most of my attention on the discourse given by Jesus at the Last Supper in the Gospel of John in relation to the Holy Spirit, his teaching, and Christian truth. This discourse is unique to John’s Gospel. Why is the Holy Spirit called the Spirit of Truth and what does that mean for us in our lives? I will examine those parts of the discourse that specifically deal with the Holy Spirit and truth. Those passages include John 14:15-18, 14:26-27, 15:26-27, 16:7-13. Finally, I will summarize the meaning of the term ‘Spirit of Truth.’

II. JOHN 14:15-18

John 14:15 If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will pray the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, to be with you for ever, 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. I will not leave you desolate; I will come to you.

Here is the first mention of the Holy Spirit in the discourse in this passage. Before we get into the verses we must note that Jesus is speaking to the Apostles collectively. It is important to note that the Holy Spirit as Truth is not speaking individually to all believers as an infallible guide, but he is speaking to the Apostles. Protestant apologists will point to passages such as this to show that each believer has the Holy Spirit, and therefore the Bible and the Holy Spirit are the only binding infallible guides necessary to understand biblical truth. It is no doubt true that the Holy Spirit will guide each believer in finding truth through Scripture; nevertheless, we must remember that the specific promise is to the Apostles collectively, corporately. This Holy Spirit will not leave us desolate (v. 18). The promise has immediate repercussions for the preservation of truth forever within the context of the Church and its leadership. The implication is as the Holy Spirit is promised forever (v. 16), he is the Spirit of Truth (v. 17), who Jesus later promises will guide into all truth (16:13). We see implications of Church infallibility, similar to other promises made by Jesus (Matt. 16:18, 28:20).

For the immediate context, we note that keeping the commandments is tied into following the Spirit of Truth. St. Augustine notes that the Holy Spirit is necessary to give us the ability to keep the commandments within the realm of God’s grace. “Without having that Spirit, they certainly could not love him and keep his commandments.”(1) This shows that the Holy Spirit is not only of Truth, but is also the sanctifier who enables believers to put to death the deeds of the flesh, as Paul writes (Rom. 8:14). This Holy Spirit enables believers to meet the just requirements of the law (Rom. 8:4).

Jesus earlier identified himself as the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6). Jesus then identifies the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of Truth, thus putting the Holy Spirit in the same category as himself. He further does this when he calls him another Paraclete (v. 16). As St. John Chrysostem notes, the term that he uses for another means “Another like unto me.”(2) This identifies the Holy Spirit as a person, who is like Jesus. As Jesus taught his disciples, so will the Holy Spirit. The disciples will soon be greatly saddened by Jesus’ death. Jesus had wisdom that the disciples could never hear. Jesus is promising that once he dies, another person will teach them that wisdom. Jesus promises to come to his people again, although he will come by sending another comforter, the Paraclete. That person is the Holy Spirit. He brings Christ’s work to fruition. As A.M. Hunter comments on this passage (v. 16): “He comes as Christ’s other self, not so much to supply his absence as to confirm his presence.”(3)

We see in the context of the promise of this Spirit of Truth a separation from those who will reject the truth and those who accept it. The world can not accept the wisdom of Jesus. John showed the world would reject Jesus (Jn 1:12). Likewise, the wisdom that is taught by the Holy Spirit will continue to be rejected by the world; nevertheless, for believers the Holy Spirit will give the disciples strength to deal with the attacks of the world, and the truths will be foundational to this strength. The Paraclete will help the disciples triumph in the great conflict that will take place between them and the world. As Ignace de la Potterie writes, Jesus here notes the two periods of teaching:

Jesus makes a distinction between his own teaching and the future teaching of the Paraclete (“But the Advocate...”). The Spirit’s action will be different from his own. He distinguishes two stages or, if you will, two great periods in the economy of revelation, the first constituted by his own word, the second by the teaching of the Spirit. Not that the revelation coming from Christ is incomplete or partial: Christ who is the Truth in person (14:6) can bring only the complete and definitive revelation. But the action of the Spirit is indispensable, although it is of another nature. (4)

III. JOHN 14:26-27

John 14:25-27 - 25 These things I have spoken to you, while I am still with you. 25 But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.

In this second mention of the Holy Spirit and truth, we see close parallels to what Jesus stated earlier (John 14:14-18): 1) Jesus will no longer directly teach his disciples; however, they are not to worry. The Holy Spirit is a successor of Jesus in his teaching of the disciples; 2) We see evident as well, the tension of those who follow Christ, from those who follow the principles of the world; 3) The supernatural peace that he gives will strengthen the disciples in the midst of opposition against, and will triumph over the world.

Something that is highlighted in this section is the point that the Holy Spirit will not teach some doctrines other than what Jesus taught. The Holy Spirit is in fact limited to teaching only what Jesus has taught (v. 26). We must thus recognize that any doctrines that the Holy Spirit will teach will not be additional things about Christ, because Christ brought the fullness of revelation. This is reflected in Hebrews 1:2; “But in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.”

This passage (v. 26) shows that ‘the data’ that is revealed owes its origins to Christ. The Holy Spirit brings to the disciple’s mind only those things about Christ. This shows that when the Holy Spirit works in revealing the truth to the ignorant, “When he takes us in hand, if he finds us already united to Christ through grace, he must still reveal to us the riches which have been confided to us, and about which we are still very ignorant.” (5) This source of truth is Jesus.

Jesus implies that he will depart, and the other Paraclete will continue Christ’s mission (v.25). Throughout the gospels the disciples have failed to grasp the truth that Christ teaches. Jesus says that it is necessary for him to die in order for the Holy Spirit to come upon the disciples. As St. John Chrysostem notes, “That they may not be grieved, he saith, that as long as he should remain with them and the Spirit would not come, they would be unable to comprehend anything great or sublime.”(6)

The phrase “bring to your remembrance all that have said to you” (v. 26) is important to note. In the Gospel of John, this theme of “calling to mind” and “recalling” is a common occurrence. De la Potterie notes that this phraseology was earlier used in to help the disciples to recall earlier events (John 2:17, 22; 12:16). “His true task will be to make them understand internally the words of Jesus, to make them grasp such words in the light of faith, to make them perceive all the possibilities and importance of such words for the life of the church.” (7) The message of Jesus is internalized into the life of the believer by the Holy Spirit.

We see that this wisdom is contrary to that of the world (v. 27). This provides a peace that the world will not provide. Jesus here relates what Paul write in a more elaborate form which shows the distinction between the wisdom of the world and God’s wisdom (1 Cor. 1:18-2:16):

1 Cor. 2:9-13 - 9 But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. 10 But God hath revealed [them] unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. 11 For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. 13 Which things also we speak, not in the words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual.

The teaching authority of the Apostles and their successors is taken for granted in both the teaching of Paul and Jesus. Jesus is teaching in the context of the Apostles and their teaching authority, and Paul is writing with teaching authority and complaining about the divisions within the Corinthian community (1 Cor. 1:10-17). As that is in the background, it does not mean that each individual believer will understand all on their own, even with the aid of the Holy Spirit. Authoritative leadership is needed for the church for its believers to grasp the spiritual truths; nevertheless, in order for believers to grasp the truths that Jesus taught, one needs guidance of the Holy Spirit to accept and internalize these truths. The wisdom of Christ crucified, for example, is a stumbling block to the Jews and folly to the world, but to those who are being saved the power of God (1 Cor. 1:23-24).

IV. JOHN 15:26-27

26 But when the Counselor comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, even the Spirit of Truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness to me; 27 and you also are witnesses, because you have been with me from the beginning.

We see here that the Son sends the Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the Father. Here are definite Trinitarian implications that are outside the realm of this paper. Jesus again reveals who the Holy Spirit of Truth is focused on: his ministry is to reveal the person of Jesus Christ. St. Ambrose identifies the Holy Spirit not as a minister, but as a “witness of the Son. He who is a witness knows all things, as God the Father is a witness.”(8) Thus there is a two fold witness of Jesus. At Christ’s baptism and at his transfiguration the Father bore witness of the Son (Mk 1:11; Mk 9:2-8). In this discourse in the Gospel of John, we see that the Holy Spirit will continue to witness about Jesus, and his truths. The disciples can only witness about Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit. The disciples’ teaching ministry to all nations is thus dependent on the continual work of the Holy Spirit.

V. JOHN 16:7-15

7 If I do not go away; the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. 8 And when he comes, he will convince the world of sin and of righteousness and of judgment; of sin, because they do not believe in me; 10 of righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no more; 11 of judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. 12 I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 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. 14 He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15 All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

Jesus prefaces the last statement in this discourse about the Holy Spirit by talking of the necessity of himself dying before he sends the Holy Spirit. We notice again that the Holy Spirit is the person who is the strength of believers. There is much than can be written about in reference to the three items that are mentioned (vv. 8-11), but that is not the focus of the paper. In passing, the three items show: 1) The Holy Spirit will show how sinfully wrong was their rejection of God’s appointed messenger; 2) He will convince them that right is on my side, by showing that he goes to the Father when Jesus passes from their sight. The Spirit will show that Christ’s death was not a criminal’s just punishment but a going to the Father who, by receiving him, vindicated the rightness of his cause; 3) The Spirit will show that Christ’s death, apparently a victory for the devil, was really a judgment on him and all his works.(9)

The Paraclete has many roles. The focus here is on his teaching. The Holy Spirit accomplishes what Jesus did not while living on earth (v. 12). Things that could not be understood if taught by Jesus, could now be understood when taught by the Holy Spirit. In a certain sense, Jesus was limited in time and space during his time on earth; however, each one who follows Jesus Christ becomes a temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19; 2 Cor. 6:16). The Holy Spirit indeed continues the presence of Jesus. The Holy Spirit does not supplant Jesus, but makes it possible for Jesus to be known more. He does not point to himself, but as seen in the earlier texts, he reveals truth about the person of Jesus.

We see that the Holy Spirit’s mission is to teach (v. 12). What will he teach? Jesus himself taught only what he hears and makes known the things that are coming (John 7:16). The Spirit will glorify him. He makes known Christ in his full majesty and will reveal and irradiate the meaning of his person and work.(10)

We earlier saw that the Holy Spirit will not bring a new revelation (John 14:26-27). The same point here is that the Paraclete’s teaching will involve a remembering, a pointing back to things Jesus said or did, and will glorify him (11): “That is why I told you that whatever he reveals to you he will take from what is mine “(John 16:15). He will teach about the earthly Jesus, and John shows how there will be no discontinuity between the Holy Spirit and Jesus.(12)

The phrase that he will guide unto all truth must be examined (v. 13). According to Wijngaards’ study:
To understand the phrase, we need to unravel the complexities of the notion “truth” in John. It links both the Hebrew emeth, faithfulness, and the Hellenistic aletheia, the eternal reality as found with God. In brief, it comes to this: Jesus has come to reveal truth by, on the one hand, exposing the evil of the world and, on the other, offering God’s loving salvation. “My task is to testify to the truth” (John 18:37). For John, truth means revelation; and Jesus Christ, the God-man, is both the act and the contents of that revelation. The truth simply stands for everything that came to light in Jesus Christ.(13)

One of the reasons that the disciples and others could not grasp the fullness of Christ’s teaching was because of the scandal of the incarnation. His origin from Nazareth and his appearance as an ordinary human being were bound to hide his true identity. Although he was God in full, this full divinity was hidden. It wasn’t like God appearing to Moses and his glory overshadowing the Israeli camp (Ex. 24:15-18). As Wijngaards wrote, “It fell, therefore, to the Spirit, the Paraclete, to reveal Jesus’ genuine identity by clearly stating ‘the complete truth’, 16:13, by teaching everything” 14:26.(14)

We note that in the scene of the discourse, the emphasis on what the Holy Spirit will teach is in future tense. Implied is the Holy Spirit, after the disciples are gone, will continue to guide future disciples of Christ; however, the verb ‘anangelein’ does not mean to ‘bring forth a completely new revelation.’ The role of the Spirit will be to interpret for the Church the revelation brought by Jesus, which previously had not been understood.(15)


After looking over the specific uses of the term Paraclete and Spirit of Truth, what do they mean? He is clearly pointed out in several passages as the Paraclete (14:16, 26; 15:26, 16:7). The RSV translation uses the term ‘Counselor.’ In the same contexts the phrase ‘Spirit of Truth’ is used of the Paraclete (14:17; 15:26; 16:13); therefore, one of the paramount functions as we have seen of the Paraclete is to teach people the truth about Jesus and all his glory. We have seen the Paraclete as an assistant to believers as a guide to this truth. He will strengthen and empower them through this very truth that will be internalized in believers.

We see in the epistle of John that Jesus is the Paraclete, Advocate for sinners before God (1 John 2:2). In John 14:16-17 the other Paraclete, the Holy Spirit is given the identification of the ‘Spirit of Truth.”. Wijngaards finds an interesting parallel in the Qumran documents that he theorizes gives a background for understanding the meaning of Spirit of Truth:

The Qumranic documents call Michael a “Spirit of Truth.” The angel of darkness, it says, causes righteous people to go wrong. All their sins, mistakes, transgressions, and criminal acts happen under his domination until his end will come.” But the “Spirit of Truth,” who is “the prince of lights,” has control over those virtuous people who walk on the ways of light. God himself and “the angel of his truth” are a support for all children of light.(16)

According to the Qumranic documents the Archangel Michael, who is identified as ‘Spirit of Truth’ protects those who seek the truth, pleading for them before God, defending their cause against the powers of darkness. That is also the role of the Holy Spirit. In the Gospel of John there are court scenes, struggles between right, and wrong. Jesus constantly has conflicts with the Jewish leaders (59b-47; 6:25-65; 7:14-36; 8:12-59; 10:22-39). There is a clash before God’s throne between the world and the Word, and the vindication of Jesus’ right and the world’s wrong. The Paraclete will show the disciples right, and the opposition wrong (16:9-11). The Paraclete will teach disciples (14:26), remind them of what Jesus said (14:26) and lead them into the fullness of truth (16:13). The Holy Spirit counsels them and preserves them in the truth so that they need not be tried in court.(17)

VII. Conclusion

I have focused on one aspect of the Holy Spirit’s role as the “Spirit of Truth” in the discourse given by Jesus at the last supper. There are other things that the Holy Spirit does, not only elsewhere in the Gospel, but in the very sayings that have been examined; nevertheless, for the purposes of examining the Holy Spirit, the Christian, Truth, and his role, we have uncovered several things: Jesus had to die first, become the perfect offering for sins for our salvation, before the Holy Spirit could come in his fullness to believers; the Holy Spirit is another advocate, who in one sense even exceeds the role of Jesus in teaching truth to believers; his main role is to teach believers about the person of Jesus Christ. As Jesus could only teach what he has heard, the Holy Spirit only teaches what he has heard; the Holy Spirit does not teach a new revelation about Jesus, he brings to mind all of what Jesus accomplished, his redemption and salvation; Only the Holy Spirit makes it possible for believers to grasp the inestimable truths of God and his salvation; implicit in Jesus’ promises are the infallibility of the Church in doctrine. Jesus talks specifically to the Apostles, and promises the Holy Spirit to all future generations, when he says he will not leave his people as orphans. Only the Holy Spirit prevents Christians from being orphans.

The revelation that the church receives, goes back specifically to Jesus and his teachings, and there will be no new revelation. Despite this, Jesus’ promise to guide the church to all truth is put in a future tense, and it is through the Holy Spirit that it is accomplished. Thus planted within the promise is the development of doctrine, so foundational to the understanding of the church. No new doctrines, but the gradual growth in understanding of the truths that were received from Jesus himself in the first century. That has been fulfilled in the Catholic Church.

The Catechism speaks specifically in relation to how truth and revelation is related to the church:
The Christian economy, therefore, since it is the new and definitive Covenant, will never pass away; and no new public revelation is to be expected before the glorious manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ. Yet even if Revelation is already complete, it has not been made completely explicit; it remains for Christian faith gradually to grasp its full significance over the course of the centuries.(18)

As we have seen, it is only the Holy Spirit of Truth who makes this possible. Jesus has kept this promise through the Holy Spirit, and his Church, as he elaborated in the Gospel of John.

(1) Augustine, Homilies on the Gospel of John, Tractate LVII, ed., Philip Schaff, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, vol. 7 (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers Inc., 1995), 332.
(2) John Chrysostem, Homilies on John, Homily LXXV, ed. Philip Schaff, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, vol. 14 (Peabody Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers Inc., 1995), 274. .
(3) A.M. Hunter,: The Gospel According to John, ed. P.R.Ackroyd, A.R.C. Leaney, & J.W. Packer, The Cambridge Bible Commentary (Cambridge: University Press, 1965), 146.
(4) Ignace de la Potterie, Stanislaus Lyonnet, The Christian Lives by the Spirit, (Staten Island, New York: Alba House, 1971), 62. .
(5) Paul-Marie de la Croix, The Biblical Spirituality of St. John (Staten Island, New York: Alba House, 1966), 406-407.
(6) John Chrysostem, Homilies on John, Homily LXXV, 276.
(7) Ignace de la Potterie, Stanislaus Lyonnet, S.J. , The Christian Lives by the Spirit, (Staten Island, New York: The Alba House, 1971), 64. .
(8) Ambrose, Of the Holy Spirit: Book 1II, Chapter III, ed. Philip Schaff, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol. 10 (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson
Publishers Inc., 1995), 99.
(9) Hunter, 153.
(10) Hunter, 156.
(11) John Wijngaards, The Spirit in John, ed. Mary Ann Getty, Zacchaeus Studies, New Testament (Wilmington, Delaware: Michael Glazier, Inc., 1988), 74.
(12) Ernst Haenchen, John 2, A Commentary on the Gospel of John Chapters 7-21, ed. Robert W. Funk & Ulrich Busse, trans. Robert Funk, Hermeneia - A Critical and Historical
Commentary on the Bible, (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Fortress Press, 1984), 128.
(13) Wijngaards, 75.
(14) Wijngaards, 74.
(15) De la Potterie, 67
(16) Wijngaards, p. 63.
(17) Wijngaards, p. 64-65.
(18) Catechism of the Catholic Church, United States Catholic Conference, Inc., (Vatican: Libreria Editrice, 1994) CCC 66.

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Last modified April 14, 1998.