Παράκλητος in the Johannine Corpus in Light of Anatolian Epigraphic Evidence

A cursory summary of English translations reveals agreement on the translation of παράκλητος as “advocate” in 1 John 2:1, but the other four occurrences of the noun in John 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7 reveal a stunning lack of agreement: “advocate,” “helper,” “comforter,” and “counselor.” The translation problem was explicitly discussed as far back as Origin who concludes with many modern translations that “advocate” is appropriate to 1 John 2:1, but “consoler” better fits the occurrences in John’s Gospel (De Principiis 2.7.4). The translation problem reflects, of course, the search for the meaning and significance of this title applied by John to both Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Commentators discuss the translation problem, but do not solve it, and the secondary literature advances divergent arguments. Kenneth Grayston (1981) influentially surveyed the occurrences of παράκλητος in extant literature to argue that it referred to a general supporter or sponsor which could be used in legal contexts but did not derive its meaning from legal activity. Lochlan Shelfer (2009) considers some new epigraphic evidence (BIWK 5) and comes to the opposite conclusion: παράκλητος “is a precise calque for the Latin legal term advocatus, meaning a person of high social standing who speaks on behalf of a defendant in a court of law before a judge.” The following discussion will consider Shelfer’s arguments and add some newly published relevant epigraphic evidence from Western Asia Minor to the discussion. These new inscriptions were published in 2017 and 2019 by Hasan Malay and Georg Petzl and have not yet been applied by New Testament scholars to the meaning of παράκλητος. The paper will offer some suggestions as to how original hearers, at least in Phrygia and Lydia, may have understood Jesus’ use of παράκλητος to refer to the Spirit along with recommendations for English translations of this difficult word.

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