“And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Comforter, that He may be with you forever” (John 14:16).
Two of the Greek words used here need explanation if the scripture is to be rightly understood. The Greek word translated as “other” is “allos” and is one of two Greek words that is thus translated, the other being “heteros”. While these words are both translated as “other” in English texts, they have quite distinct meanings in Greek. Allos mean another of the same sort, whereas heteros means another of a different sort. The distinction is marked in Galatians 1:6-7, where Paul writes of “another gospel” (heteros) which is “not another” (allos); in other words the Galatians are listening to a gospel that, while it may use the same scriptures, amounts to a different gospel, a gospel of men that leads to bondage instead of liberty.
The Greek word translated as “comforter” is parakletos and it must be said that “comforter” is a very poor translation of the word indeed; particularly in the sense of 21st century English. Literally, parakletos comes from para, meaning alongside, and kaleo, meaning “to call”; thus the word intends to convey the meaning of someone or thing called alongside.
In the sense that Jesus uses it, He is saying that the Father will send another of the same sort as Him; to take His place in the midst of God’s people on earth. Jesus Himself had to return to the Father, there to allow the Father to enter His rest and to bring all things in subjection to Him. Thus, one was needed to undertake the work throughout the entire world, that Jesus carried out amongst a very few in the limited area of Palestine. The parakletos, that is the Holy Spirit, was to take Jesus’ place upon earth while He attended to business in His Father’s house.
Comforter, therefore, is an inadequate description of His role and an inappropriate translation of the word parakletos. In America, a comforter is a warm quilt and its use to describe the parakletos suggests a Santa Claus type of Christianity where we are consoled and comforted in our humanity rather than led out of it and into the likeness of Christ. Consolation and comfort, rather than suffering and endurance, is the wrong message to be sending out.
In the sixteenth century, when the English Bible was being translated, comfort had a quite different meaning. Whereas today comfort conveys a sense of physical ease and well being, and the pleasant lifestyle that is secured by it, in 1611 the word was understood to mean strengthening. In fact, any English word that includes “fort” as a prefix or suffix is probably derived from the Latin verb fortere, “to strengthen’ or the noun fortis “strength”, common examples being “fortitude” and “fortress”. “Comfort” then, comes from the Latin com expressing intensive force, and fortis meaning “strength”.
Thus, in the sense that Jesus used it, the Holy Spirit is being sent to take Jesus’ place amongst those called by God, to strengthen them, to encourage them, to support them and to teach them, just as Jesus did during His earthly sojourn amongst those that the Father gave to Him. The role of the Holy Spirit was carefully circumscribed by Jesus in John’s gospel; 14:15-16; 14:23-26; 15:26-27; 16:7-11; and 16:13-15.
In summary what these scriptures tell us is that the Holy Spirit will be with those that love Christ forever; He will not speak from Himself but teach them and bring to their remembrance all that Jesus said; He will bear witness of, and glorify, Jesus and lead those that love Christ into all truth; He will disclose to them what is to come and He will speak whatever He hears from Jesus.
The Spirit, then, represents Jesus as Jesus represented the Father. He is our teacher, guide helper and supporter.