New Testament Gospel Doctrine Lesson 24: John 16-17

Today’s chapters continue Jesus’ final sermon at the last supper, which uniquely extends to multiple chapters, only in John. These chapters have some puzzling statements, and are difficult to parse. I don’t have any magic unifying interpretation, so I’ll offer some specific points instead.

In terms of structure, 16 still sounds like exposition or sermon, whereas 17 is known as the great intercessory prayer. Were they still in the upper room at that point? Had they gone somewhere? Note that 14:31 says “Rise, let us be on our way” (NRSV), although there’s no indication that they then travel.

16:1 Jesus says, “These things have I spoken unto you, that ye should not be offended.”  What is “offended”? I treated this in this lesson from one perspective. Here, Jesus seems to be preparing them, steeling them for the unpleasant times to come, as the NET Bible makes clear- “I have told you all these things so that you will not fall away.” How does such preparation help prevent people from “falling away”?

7– Here we find “the comforter” though not for the first time (John 14:16.). The greek is paraklete, like parakeet with an l. Other translations read “advocate,” “helper” or  “counselor.” In 1Jo 2:1, Jesus himself is termed a paraklete, KJV “advocate.” Notably, the Dictionary of Demons and Deities in the Bible has an entry. Among other things, it says

In common Greek usage [paraklete] means ‘called to one’s aid’, ‘summoned’, and as a substantive ‘legal assistant, advocate’, or, in a more general sense, ‘intercessor’. The reference is nearly almost to human persons, not to divine beings….No single translation of Paraclete covers both areas of activity: (a) suggests to understand it as the equivalent of the participle parakalōn, and expressing the relevant shades of meaning of that verb, such as ‘comforter’, ‘exhorter’; (b) rather suggests a judicial meaning, such as ‘advocate’, ‘counsellor’.

Because “no single translation” can convey both aspects, many reference works, scholarship, and at least one modern Bible translation (the 1985 New Jerusalem Bible) simply don’t translate. They just say Paraclete (substituting a hard “c” for the Greek k.)

In connection with this, Jesus gives the odd statement that if he doesn’t leave, the Paraclete won’t come. John 7:39 says something similar, that “[Jesus] said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit, because Jesus was not yet glorified.” NRSV

What do we make of this? I’d suggest, not much.

“The statement that Jesus must depart before the Paraclete can come has led to some questionable exegesis.”- WBC on John 7:39.

“Why the Spirit’s influence could not be released during the earthly ministry of Jesus, as it was after His Passion and Resurrection, is a question to which no complete answer can be given.” ICC on John.


The spirit, when it comes, will “prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment.” Apparently, we lack the Israelite mindset necessary to instinctively grasp the import of this.

 Again and again the writers [of Psalms] call out to God, asking that he would judge them (e.g. Psalms 17, 26 and 43). We have got used to the words ‘judge’ and ‘judgment’ being used in a bad sense, to mean ‘condemn’ and ‘condemnation’. But to the ordinary worshipper in ancient Israel, things looked very different. The problem was that they couldn’t get their case to come to court. If only someone in authority could see what had happened and make the obvious decision! But they wouldn’t and they didn’t. So the Psalmists prayed that God would act as judge and decide who was in the right.

There were many times during Israel’s history when the nation as a whole found itself in the same situation. Big, powerful foreign nations invaded, attacked, and devastated cities, captured thousands of people, and took them away as slaves. Eventually the remaining people, living in the Jerusalem area, were taken away to Babylon. Even after they had returned, they were overrun and oppressed by one foreign power after another. And they developed a regular way of thinking about it all, based on their unshakeable belief that their God, the world’s creator, was the God of justice.
They imagined themselves in a lawcourt. (In the Hebrew system, there was no ‘director of public prosecutions’, so every lawsuit was brought by someone against someone else. The judge’s job was to decide between the two of them: to vindicate or uphold the one and to condemn the other one.) Israel was bringing a lawsuit against the foreign nations. What right had Babylon got—had Syria got—had Egypt or Rome or anyone else got—to oppress God’s people? What had they done to deserve it?

Sometimes—and you can imagine how daring this was— there were prophets who accepted this as the scenario, but declared that actually Israel had deserved it. Isaiah spoke of Israel rebelling against YHWH and YHWH being right to bring condemnation against the people. So did Jeremiah. So, in a memorable chapter, did Daniel (chapter 9).

But the prophets, including those same ones, regularly went on to see God taking his seat in judgment again, and this time bringing a different verdict. God would find in favour of Israel, and against the nations that had wickedly and arrogantly attacked it. This time, the lawsuit would go Israel’s way. This time, God would demonstrate that the world was in the wrong and that his people were in the right.

Once you grasp that whole way of thinking, and the Jewish way of looking at the world which goes with it, you are ready to understand the otherwise very difficult passage which is the key moment in this section. Verses 8–11 [ of John 16] speak of the holy spirit, the ‘helper’ we’ve already met in the previous chapters, coming as the advocate in a lawsuit, and proving that the world is in the wrong. The difference is that this time God’s people in the lawsuit are the followers of Jesus. ‘The world’ includes of course the pagan nations, but also, insofar as it hasn’t believed in Jesus, Israel as well.- Wright, John for Everyone

Chapter 17

Many Christians refer to this chapter as “The Great High Priestly Prayer.” Why do you think they do so? Latter-day Saints usually call this prayer “the Great Intercessory Prayer.” Why? Are the two names for this prayer related? If so, how?

Though we know Jesus prayed often, we know the content of only a few of his prayers. Why did John believe it was important to tell us what Jesus said in his prayer?

How does the form of this prayer fit the form given to us in the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13; Luke 11:2-4; and 3 Nephi 13:9-13)? If it doesn’t, how do you explain the differences?- The New Testament Made Harder

Multiple themes in chapter 17 appear temple-related. See here. One of them, interestingly, is “the world.”

booksLDS often talk about “the world” in vague ways. It’s a New Testament phrase, but the distribution is quite interesting. When you search the KJV Gospels for “the world”, John predominates, per the graph at left. (I accidentally cut off Acts, which is why the % don’t add up, e.g. Matthew has 13 occurrences of “the world” which is 13% of the total occurrences in Matthew-Acts.)


And when you break this down by chapters (the actual numbers don’t matter that much), look where the concentration spikes.


So John 17 involves both temple themes and a heavy concentration of “the world.” While that phrase can represent at least two different things in the Greek text (as I’ve mentioned before) here it is always the kosmos, which can mean various things like “the entirety of creation” (or cosmos, John 17:2), as well as “the world, and everything that belongs to it, appears as that which is hostile to God, i.e. lost in sin, wholly at odds w. anything divine, ruined and depraved ” (BDAG). Those two certainly don’t exhaust the meaning, but fit in John 17.

Jesus prays that his disciples will be separated from the world or made holy (one definition of holiness is “set apart, separated, different”); that although still physically present in the worldthey will be protected from “the evil one” (not just generic “evil”) and that they may become one with the father as Jesus is one with him. How do we “become one” with the Father? Atonement.

Originally published in 4 parts in The Ensign, Hugh Nibley‘s “Meaning of the Atonement” has been reprinted in Approaching Zion, which is online here. Atonement really is taking two and bringing them to be at-one, healing a rift, closing a separation. Nibley draws upon the Book of Mormon and other sources to elaborate upon the atonement. If we are separated from God, an apt symbol of reconciliation and return to one-ness is the embrace, such as that between the prodigal son and his father. (I can only use public-domain pictures, or I’d have several here.) See also, “The Handclasp and Embrace as Tokens of Recognition” in this article.

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